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BRIAN ENO 

• • • 

HIS MUSIC 

AND THE 

VERTICAL COLOR OF SOUND 
by Eric Tamm 


Copyright © 1988 by Eric Tamm 



DEDICATION 


This book is dedicated to my parents, Igor Tamm and Olive Pitkin Tamm. In my childhood, 
my father sang bass and strummed guitar, my mother played piano and violin and sang in 
choirs. Together they gave me a love and respect for music that will be with me always. 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 


DEDICATION i 

TABLE OF CONTENTS ii 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS iv 

CHAPTER ONE: ENO’S WORK IN PERSPECTIVE 1 

CHAPTER TWO: BACKGROUND AND INFLUENCES 12 

CHAPTER THREE: ON OTHER MUSIC: ENO AS CRITIC 24 

CHAPTER FOUR: THE EAR OF THE NON-MUSICIAN 39 

Art School and Experimental Works, Process and Product 39 

On Listening 41 

Craft and the Non-Musician 44 

CHAPTER FIVE: LISTENERS AND AIMS 51 

Eno’s Audience 51 

Eno’s Artistic Intent 55 

“Generating and Organizing Variety in the Arts” 59 

CHAPTER SIX: THE COMPOSITIONAL PROCESS 63 

Equipment 63 

Systems of Composing 75 

Verbal Expression and Lyrics 80 

CHAPTER SEVEN: THE MUSICIAN AS PHILOSOPHER 85 

Ultimate Realities 85 

Culture and Information 88 

The Masculine and the Feminine 89 

Politics 91 

Metaphors and Images 93 

CHAPTER EIGHT: TAKING ROCK TO THE LIMIT 96 

The Albums 97 

CHAPTER NINE: ENO’S PROGRESSIVE ROCK: THE MUSIC 107 

Assaultive Rock Songs 110 

Pop Songs 114 

Strange Songs 116 

Hymn-like Songs 120 

Instrumental Pieces 120 

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CHAPTER TEN: THE AMBIENT SOUND 128 

Long Ambient Pieces 129 

Short Ambient Pieces 138 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: COLLABORATIONS 146 

With Robert Fripp 146 

With David Bowie 151 

With Talking Heads and David Byrne 154 

CHAPTER TWELVE: ESSENCE, HISTORY, AND BEAUTY 158 

The Music’s Essence 158 

The Music’s History 161 

The Music’s Beauty 166 

GLOSSARY 170 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 178 

ENO DISCOGRAPHY 192 

Solo Progressive Rock Albums 192 

Solo Ambient Albums 193 

Rock Collaborations 194 

Ambient Collaborations 196 

Rock Productions 196 

The Obscure Label 196 

Other 197 

OTHER MUSIC CITED 198 

Epilog - 1989-1995 201 

Eno's Music of the 1990s 202 

Eno on the Internet 205 

Bibliography Update 1995 207 

Discography Update 1995 209 

About the Author 211 


iii 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 


I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor George Skapsi at California State 
University, Northridge, for his enthusiasm with regard to the study of music, which did much 
to whet my appetite for further work. 

This book grew out of my doctoral dissertation research conducted in the Music Department 
at the University of California, Berkeley. I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of faculty 
members there: John Swackhamer, whose broad view of contemporary music and sense of 
humor helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel, Bonnie Wade, whose interest in a wide 
range of world music has always been refreshing, and who supervised an independent study 
that led ultimately to this book, Anthony Newcomb, who gamely steered my research through 
its early stages, Christopher Brown, who with good cheer and open-mindedness took on a 
fruitful advisory role, Oily Wilson, whose course in Afro-American music was one of the 
highlights of my studies at Berkeley, and whose continuing scholarly and personal involve- 
ment with that tradition set a valuable example for me, and Philip Brett, my dissertation ad- 
viser, who was a delight to work with, offering many valuable suggestions, and whose firm 
editorial guidance taught me much about writing itself. 

Professor Charles Hamm of Dartmouth College served as an active yet unofficial reader and 
adviser from the very earliest stages of the dissertation, and for his penetrating comments, 
informed by a lifetime’s study of popular music, I am grateful. 

I do not know exactly how to express my deep feelings of admiration and obligation towards 
Robert Fripp, the most effective teacher with whom 1 have ever had the privilege of studying 
music, whose Guitar Craft XII seminar in 1986 opened up many a door for me, and who was 
primarily responsible for leading me to undertake a study of his colleague Eno’s work. 

1 would also like to thank Professor Howard DeWitt of Ohlone College, who lightened the 
research load considerably through his encyclopedic knowledge of rock’n’roll and massive 
record collection, Charles Amirkhanian, Joshua Kosman, and Joe Paulino, who supported the 
project from early on and were kind enough to loan me a number of obscure records and 
tapes, Lin Barkass and Anthea Norman-Taylor at Eno’s management firm. Opal Ltd., London, 
who answered my queries about Eno in a timely fashion and supplied several pertinent arti- 
cles and brochures, and Betsy Uhrig of Faber & Faber for her warmth and editorial assistance 
in the preparation of the final manuscript. 

This book could not have been written without the constant support of my wife, Kristina Hol- 
land, who agreeably proofread typescripts and put up with long stretches of anti-social behav- 
ior on my part. Finally, I must thank my daughter Lilia, now six years old and no great Eno 
fan, for helping me keep everything in perspective. After repeatedly playing Eno records on 
the home stereo and running on about how wonderfully “mysterious” the music is, I asked her 
one day if she liked it. “Turn it off!” she said. “It makes me feel like / am a mystery.” 


IV 



CHAPTER ONE: 

ENO’S WORK IN PERSPECTIVE 


Brian Eno (b. 1948) is a contemporary British musician and artist whose public creative ca- 
reer began in 1972 with his synthesizer playing for the rock group Roxy Music. Through se- 
curing a niche in the music industry and by building up an audience for his progressive rock 
music, Eno has been able to diversify his creative efforts considerably. He is a prime example 
of a new type of composer who has drawn freely on the resources of many types of music and 
ideas about music. These include a variety of popular genres such as rhythm and blues and 
rock’n’roll, progressive rock, punk, and new wave, as well as African, Middle Eastern, and 
oriental styles. Also notable among his influences are minimalism, experimental new music, 
post-Cage avant-garde ideas, and electronic music. Eno has combined music with visual art in 
the form of video and sculptural installations, has lectured on musical subjects extensively, 
and is the author or co-author of a number of written materials. Although he has performed 
live, his primary arena of operation is the recording studio, which he has called his “real in- 
strument.” In addition to the knobs and switches of the mixing board and multi-track tape 
recorder, Eno plays keyboards (primarily synthesizer), guitar (primarily electric), electric 
bass, and a variety of percussion instillments, he is also a singer. 

The scope of Eno’s musical activity is impressive. 1 Between 1972 and 1988 he released 
eleven solo albums that range stylistically from progressive rock to what he has called “ambi- 
ent” music - a gentle music of low dynamics, blurred edges, and washes of sound color, pro- 
duced primarily through electonic means. As a songwriter he developed a technique of lyric 
writing based in part on the procedures of phonetic poetry. It is on his solo albums that we 
may observe the unfolding of Eno’s musical personality in its purest form, in the role of com- 
poser he has been keenly interested in working with the traditionally neglected or at least 
downplayed realms of timbre (tone color) and texture, and in the process of pursuing that in- 
terest has been of seminal importance in the development of the “new age” or “space music” 
genre. Timbre is a term that refers to the color of sound itself: it is what makes the same note 
played on a violin, a trumpet, or a xylophone sound different. This aspect of musical sound 
can be thought of as “vertical,” since it depends to a large extent on the harmonics, or barely 
audible frequencies, that are stacked up “vertically” on top of the primary heard note itself. 
The vertical harmonic spectrum determines the color of the sound, and the way our ears and 
mind interpret the harmonic spectrum determines whether we hear the characteristic sound of 
a guitar or a flute, or whether we hear the vocal syllable “ooh” or “aah,” for example. 


1 Eno himself has published a comprehensive, though not exhaustive list of his works, catego- 
rized as solo albums, singles, album productions and co-productions, primary collaborations, 
secondary collaborations, selected commissions to score music, selected uses of Music for 
Films and other compositions, video works, audio-visual installations, and publications. See 
Brian Eno and Russell Mills, More Dark than Shark, commentaries by Rick Poynor, designed 
by Malcolm Garrett, photography by Martin Axon, additional photography by David Buck- 
land (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), 138-9. See also the “Eno Discography” in “Sources” 
below, 337. 


1 




Collaboration with other rock and non-rock musicians has formed a very important aspect of 
Eno’s activity. Two albums of tape-looped synthesizer/guitar duets with King Crimson guitar- 
ist Robert Fripp were among Eno’s first publicly available experiments in the ambient sound. 
Eno has worked with conceptual rock group 801 (a live band, formed around ex-Roxy Music 
players Phil Manzanera on guitar and Eno on synthesizer), with Kevin Ayers and John Cale (a 
live album), and with the German synthesizer group Cluster (several albums of ambient- 
inflected music). Eno’s collaboration on three albums with glitter/art rocker David Bowie 
mixed hard rock, disco/funk, and electronic excursions in a unique combination of styles. 
With David Byrne, leader of Talking Heads, Eno made the controversial album My Life in the 
Bush of Ghosts, which used African and American radio “found sounds” in a number of musi- 
cal collages in which complex rhythms and textures set up a kind of sonic frieze. Outside the 
rock realm entirely, Eno has collaborated on albums with composers Harold Budd, Jon Has- 
sell, Daniel Lanois, Michael Brook, and Roger Eno, creating a marvelously variegated set of 
soundscapes and musical concepts. Eno’s role in all of these collaborations has been varied, 
but in the projects mentioned in this paragraph he has been credited as one of the composers, 
and in some of them as the producer. 

Eno’s expertise in the recording studio has been much sought-after since about 1975, and he 
has produced at least twenty-three albums on which he is not listed as one of the composers. 
His actual role as a producer has varied from that of being a simple recording engineer to that 
of being a de facto co-composer of the total sound. Again the types of music represented are 
diverse. Eno produced two albums for the Portsmouth Sinfonia, the “world’s worst sym- 
phony” - an ensemble founded on high camp satire consisting of non-musicians and musi- 
cians playing instruments they didn’t know how to play, stumbling through outrageously 
butchered versions of the classical repertoire. Eno created a record label himself. Obscure 
Records, which released eight albums in the 1970s. The Obscure philosophy, discussed by 
Eno in several statements, was essentially to aid in the dissemination of experimental music, 
the Obscure records included pieces by contemporary composers Gavin Bryars, Christopher 
Hobbs, John Adams, Max Eastley, John Cage, Jan Steele, Michael Nyman, the Penguin Cafe 
Orchestra, Tom Phillips, Fred Orton, and Harold Budd. Among the rock acts Eno has pro- 
duced are John Cale, Robert Calvert, Talking Heads, Ultravox, Devo, and U2. Eno also pro- 
duced the compilation No New York (documenting the New York punk scene of the late 1970s, 
with music by the Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, and DNA), an album fea- 
turing the ethereal music of hammer dulcimer player Laraaji, and a record by the Ghanaian 
pop group Edikanfo. 

Eno has appeared as an instrumentalist (playing synthesizer, percussion, bass, and guitar) and 
vocalist on at least twenty-three albums, ranging from the fabled Scratch Orchestra’s re- 
cording of Cornelius Cardew’s experimental vocal composition The Great Learning to David 
Byrne’s music for Twyla Tharp’s Broadway production. The Catherine Wheel. 

Over the last decade Eno’s approach to music has found favor among filmmakers, television 
executives, and playwrights. Among other things, Eno produced the “Prophecy Theme” for 
David Lynch’s film Dune, and the music for the PBS series Creation of the Universe. Eno 
compositions were used as background for the acclaimed Nova film The Miracle of Life, 
which featured stunning color footage of inside-the-body structures and processes relating to 
human reproduction. In 1978 Eno released an album of original compositions entitled Music 
for Films', Music for Films, Vol. II followed in 1983. The pieces on these albums have been 


2 



used in film, TV, advertising, dance company, and planetarium applications in the U.K., 
U.S.A., Australia, Japan, and Holland. 

Since 1979 Eno has been working in the area of audio-visual installations - shows in galleries 
and other public places in which taped music, video monitors or video “sculptures,” and the 
spatial characteristics of the site itself complement each other, forming an aesthetic whole that 
he feels is best appreciated through repeated visits. He has set up such installations in over 
fifty locations in the U.S.A., Canada, France, Australia, Holland, England, Italy, Austria, and 
Germany. Sometimes the technological means have been extravagant, as at La Foret Museum, 
Akasaka, Tokyo, where he used thirty-six video monitors. 

Owing to the expansive, multi-faceted nature of his ideas, and, doubtless, to his highly publi- 
cized collaborations with rock stars like David Bowie, Robert Fripp, and Talking Heads, 
whose work has loomed much larger in the record-buying public’s estimation, Eno’s music 
has received sustained critical attention out of all proportion to the (rather meager) number of 
records he has sold. In his early work in Roxy Music and subsequent solo progressive rock 
albums, Eno styled himself a rock musician, capturing the attention of the rock press and pub- 
lic with his imaginative approach to the synthesizer, his constant textural experimentation, the 
dry, witty irony of his lyrics - and with his public image as a sort of cerebral hermaphrodite 
(with Roxy Music he wore women’s clothing and makeup). His credentials as as an outre rock 
innovator thus established, he continued to pique the imagination of his public when his com- 
positions turned away from rock forms, rhythms, harmonies and styles entirely, with the re- 
lease of a number of albums of quiet, gentle compositions, often entirely without pulse or 
melody. It is doubtful whether Eno’s ambient music would have found its way into the fore- 
front of popular music discourse had he not begun his public career working more or less 
within the rock mainstream. Eno has thus become, for many critics, a symbol of the potential 
of “art rock”: not only has he brought his philosophical inclinations, attitude of experimenta- 
tion, and self-consciously “artistic” sensibilities to bear on creating what might be called rock 
music for the thinking person or aesthete (as have musicians like Frank Zappa and Robert 
Fripp), but he has worked within new, non-rock genres essentially of his own creation. 

Fascination with Eno extends beyond the world of the music press, his life and music have 
been treated in general interest magazines like Esquire, Omni, People Weekly, and Time, as 
well as art periodicals like Artforum, Art in America, and Flash Art. Critical response to spe- 
cific solo albums by Eno range from extremes of praise, expressed in effusive hyperbole, to 
extremes of boredom, expressed through witty or indignant put-downs, both extremes are 
often found in different reviews of the same work. 

If Eno’s approach to music can be summed up here, it is in terms of inventing systems and 
setting them in motion, vigilantly maintaining an open mind and child-like curiosity with re- 
gard to the infinite play of musical possibilities, taking command of technology’s array of 
music-making equipment from tape recorders to synthesizers to mixing consoles, generally 
working within a relatively narrow range of expressive possibilities for any given piece, and 
accepting happy accidents at any stage of the creative process. “Honor thy mistake as a hid- 
den intention,” says one of the Oblique Strategies, a set of oracle cards Eno produced and 


3 



marketed in 1975 with painter Peter Schmidt, and subsequently used extensively as a compo- 
sitional aid. 2 

Let’s take a step back and try to view Eno’s broad output and accomplishments in some kind 
of perspective. The challenge to the observer of today’s multi-faceted musical scene is to 
avoid easy identification with attitudes and assumptions promoted by the many “interest 
groups” involved and to cultivate an open view. Contemporary music should be viewed as a 
pluralistic whole. In the age of the global village, the mass media and world-wide record dis- 
tribution networks, music flows freely across vast geographical and cultural boundaries. It 
may flow more freely across some borders and in some directions than others, and certainly 
the day has not yet come when all cultures know about the music of all cultures, or want to 
know. But in a growing number of places world-wide, the living history and current state of 
the world’s music are concentrated on discs in libraries and record stores, available to whom- 
ever has the means and curiosity to listen, and radio broadcasts make available a similarly 
wide array of the world’s musical traditions and treasures. 

In this pluralistic situation, some musical genres remain traditional, self-consciously insulated 
from the explosion of musical information, others mix and mingle, whether through the di- 
rected efforts of musicians, composers and ethnomusicologists or through the inexorable 
processes of acculturation. In his recent book The Western Impact on World Music, Bruno 
Nettl traces the ways such Western musical norms as functional harmony, such Western in- 
struments and ensembles as violins and orchestras, and such Western institutions as the classi- 
cal concert have affected musical life and the concept of music in a wide variety of cultures 
throughout the world. Although Nettl’s ethnomusicological study concentrates on the flow of 
music from the West to other parts of the world, inter-cultural musical exchange works both 
ways. 

Nettl’s short chapter on “pop” is notable for its opinion, all too common in musicological cir- 
cles, that “if there is any trend in world music that might justify the fear of musical homog- 
enization, it would have to be in [the] realm of popular music.” 3 Such an opinion must be lo- 
cated within the context of a long history of musicologists’ refusing even to recognize the 
existence, let alone the diversity and vitality, of popular music. Yet even a cursory survey will 
show that some of the most interesting inter-cultural developments have taken and are taking 
place in the realm of popular music. History has become an all-embracing present, and it is an 
exciting time to be alive in the world of music, in the music of the world. 

In spite of this unprecedented opening up of musical possibilities, many of the institutional 
frameworks of Western music exert considerable pressures on the individual musician to con- 
form. Many orchestras, opera companies, vocal groups, and chamber music ensembles, along 
with their associated audiences, are reluctant to take chances with the new, no doubt because 
ever since Schoenberg “emancipated dissonance” many composers have made few efforts to 
make their music accessible to a wide audience. Many academic institutions still interpret 
musical training largely in terms of the attainment of competence in the performance of a rep- 


2 Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilem- 
mas, boxed set of cards, limited edition of 500 copies, London, 1975, revised and reissued, 
London, 1978, 1979. 

3 Bruno Nettl, The Western Impact on World Music: Change, Adaptation, and Survival (New 
York: Schirmer, 1985), 85. 


4 



ertory whose shape has not changed much for the past half-century or more. And although a 
few composers have undertaken experiments in the realm of tone color - notably through ex- 
tended instrumental and vocal techniques, invention of new instruments, and electronic music 
- the timbral norms of academic new music have remained substantially those associated with 
the instruments of the traditional orchestra, which has expanded in size but not changed much 
in a structural and organizational sense for over two centuries. 

The realm of popular music is considerably less insulated than that of modem art music. In 
the Western world, a decisive musical development of the twentieth century has been the rise 
to prominence of a spectacular variety of Afro-American musical genres and associated 
styles: ragtime, big-band jazz, be-bop, and rhythm and blues, the development leads from 
rhythm and blues directly into the rock’n’roll of the 1950s and the subsequent stylistic explo- 
sion. Rock music exists in an abundance of varieties, many of them drawing their vitality 
from fresh infusions of non- Western sources. On the face of it, there might appear to be con- 
siderably less pressure to conform within the realm of popular music than in the realm of 
modern art music, more incentive to innovate, to create hybrid musics, to experiment along 
the border lines between genres, and indeed a great deal of such experimentation has been 
done. But as any popular musician can testify, the pressure to conform in the world of popular 
music comes from a different direction - not from the academic imperative of upholding a 
tradition of supposed structural sophistication and intellectual validity, but from the need to 
make music that is “commercial.” Group after group has died from a creative standpoint after 
making one or two albums that attain commercial success: having come up with an original 
sound, the musicians - and especially the musicians’ management and record company - are 
reluctant to alter the formula in significant ways in subsequent efforts for fear of loss of audi- 
ence and income. Few have the courage to escape this trap and follow their artistic destiny. 

The situation is thus simultaneously exhilarating and perilous for the contemporary musician 
who finds something valuable and important to say. Finding or creating an audience is only 
part of the problem. The musician must also find the strength to resist both intellectual and 
commercial pressures. What a paradox: the global musical/informational network allows ac- 
cess to fantastic riches in terms of sources, ideas, and styles, but simultaneously, old and new 
institutions - existing performance groups, genre-associated audiences, the academy, the mu- 
sic industry - may inhibit the musician from forging anything truly new out of these precious 
materials. 

Eno’s music, in its sweeping eclecticism, represents - one might even say epitomizes - the 
new freedom felt by many younger composers in the second half of the twentieth century - 
composers for whom the traditional forms, forums, and aesthetic and intellectual ideals of 
Western art music have never had any particular precedence over those of other kinds of mu- 
sic. The difference between classical music and popular music presents itself to Eno as a mat- 
ter of differing forms of social organization and performance practice, not as a matter of de- 
grees of craft and aesthetic worth. In Eno’s music we find qualities that are commonly, if 
somewhat superficially, associated with art and popular music respectively: on the one hand, a 
genuine concern for values of thoughtfulness, reflection, craft, creativity and originality, on 
the other hand, an acknowledgement of the needs of the audience, a sense of music as a func- 
tional, social phenomenon, and a lively interest in the full global spectrum of contemporary 
musical styles and tendencies. 


5 



Throughout his creative life, Eno has been fascinated by different kinds of processes and sys- 
tems. In a statement whose implications have been vigorously debated, he summed up his 
attitude in 1975: “Since 1 have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravi- 
tated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with 
little or no intervention on my part.” 4 Though this might seem to imply a relatively passive 
role for the artist, Eno has been tirelessly active in the creation and investigation of the prop- 
erties of different systems of composition and music-making, and in his choice of specific 
limitations has typically determined the outcome to a fairly high degree. His craft is widely 
acknowledged and admired, and the product or residue left by his “self-regulating or self- 
generating systems” includes a body of music of compelling beauty and originality. 

It seems to me that it is not really the point to ask point-blank whether Eno’s music is “art 
music” or “popular music,” yet a discussion of what is meant by such terms can help to situate 
his music in the contemporary scene. In recent years considerable scholarly and polemic en- 
ergy has been expended on the subject of the difference between, and relative social and aes- 
thetic positions of “art music” and “popular music.” (For the truly interested, the Bibliography 
at the back of this book includes a variety of writings on this topic.) 

In his recent book Analysis and Value Judgement , the German music historian Carl Dahlhaus, 
expressing a viewpoint that is widely shared among musicologists and classical music critics, 
writes that “A listener capable of doing justice to a Beethoven symphony is generally 
equipped to cope with the musical issues of a pop tune, but the reverse is not true.” This 
seems to me patently false: the musical issues raised by the Beethoven symphony and the pop 
tune are simply not comparable, and there is no point or meaning in pretending that they are. 
The generic prejudice displayed in Dahlhaus’s statement is made outrageous by the sting in 
the tail of the disclaimer that follows: “Arrogance of the initiated must not be defended, but 
that nobody has the right to blame musical illiterates for being illiterate does not change the 
fact that illiteracy provides a weak foundation for aesthetic judgements.” 5 For Dahlhaus, and 
for those who share his extreme view, apparently the eye is more important than the ear when 
it comes to appreciating music: if you can’t read it, you can’t really understand it. And woe to 
the music that is not even written down to begin with! The substantive problem with this line 
of reasoning is that reliance on notation as a foundation for aesthetic judgements inevitably 
leads to the ignoring, by traditional analysts, of aspects of musical style extremely important 
in popular music, but difficult or impossible to notate, such as overall “sound” (or what are 
known as “production values”), timbre, vocal quality and nuance, and ornamentation. 

A broader view of the art/popular dichotomy is found in the discipline of ethnomusicology, 
whose history, however, can be read as a tale of predominantly Western scholars slowly com- 
ing to terms with their own ethnocentricity and genre preferences. Over the past century, eth- 
nomusicologists have suggested various ways of classifying the musics of the world. Bruno 
Nettl summarizes: 

At one time [in the late nineteenth century] there was a tendency to 
recognize only two classes, Western art music in the one and every- 
thing else in the other. Soon, recognition of the fact that Asian cultures 
had a stratification of music not unlike that of Europe led to a tripartite 

4 Brian Eno, liner notes to Discreet Music, Editions EG EGS 303, 1975. 

5 Carl Dahlhaus, Analysis and Value Judgement (New York: Pendragon Press, 1983), 6. 


6 



model, primitive, art, and folk music ... A third stage is implied in 
[Mantle] Hood’s statement [in 1963] to the effect that art, folk, popu- 
lar, and primitive music are the nonn ... Eventually, further, there also 
came the realization that each culture has its own way of classifying 
music ... I suggest that while most cultures do indeed have their own 
way of classifying music, so that the terms “folk,” “art,” and “popular” 
are at best culture-specific to the West, each culture tends to have some 
kind of hierarchy in its musical system, a continuum from some kind 
of elite to popular. Where the lines should be drawn is a subject of 
discussion. 6 

This struggle over where to draw the lines can yield some insights in assessing the position 
Eno’s music occupies in the schema of musical types. The British-born popular music scholar 
Philip Tagg has published an “axiomatic triangle” that represents a recent attempt to classify 
musical types into folk, art, and popular. 7 Folk music in produced and transmitted primarily 
by amateurs, writes Tagg, art and popular music is largely the work of professionals. Popular 
music is usually mass-produced, folk and art music are usually not. The three types of music 
have different primary modes of storage and distribution: folk music by oral tradition, art mu- 
sic by music notation, and popular music by recorded sound. The type of society in which the 
type of music occurs varies: folk music is found mostly in nomadic or agrarian societies, art 
music in agrarian or industrial societies, while popular music is largely a phenomenon of the 
industrialized world. Folk music is produced and distributed independently of a monetary 
economy, art music relies on public funding, and popular music’s economic domain is free 
enterprise. The presence of an organized, written body of music theory and aesthetics is un- 
common with folk and popular music types, but the norm with art music. Finally, folk music 
is usually held to be composed anonymously, whereas art and popular music is composed 
non-anonymously. 

What Tagg has done is to systematize the standard musicological wisdom with regard to the 
three types of music. Unfortunately - and a growing number of scholars and critics are begin- 
ning to recognize this - there is a lot of music out there that refuses to be pegged quite so 
neatly. Take Eno’s music as an example. Eno is certainly a professional, in the sense that he 
gets paid for what he does, yet he has largely given up live performance, and as we shall see, 
he positively revels in the “amateurish” nature of his instrumental abilities, going so far as to 
characterize himself as a “non-musician.” Is his music “mass-distributed”? In the sense that 
multiple pressings are made of his records, yes, but he has certainly set no records for number 
of copies sold, sales figures of each of his solo albums hovering between 50,000 and 100,000. 
The “main mode of storage and distribution” of Eno’s music is certainly “recorded sound,” 
and while the genesis of some of his compositions includes a written sketching stage (though 
not in musical notation), the only existing scores have been produced by others for copyright 
purposes, and in Eno’s opinion bear little resemblance to the music itself. A point to be made 
about mode of storage and distribution as a criterion for the separation of art and popular mu- 


6 Bruno Nettl, The Study of Ethnomusicology: Twenty-nine Issues and Concepts (Urbana, Chi- 
cago, and London: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 305. 

7 Philip Tagg, “Analysing Popular Music,” Popular Music 2: Theory’ and Method (Cam- 
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 42. 


7 



sic, however, is that in 1989 musical notation can surely no longer be considered the main 
mode for art music: although the written score may still enjoy a certain ontological suprem- 
acy, in reality many more people experience classical music through recordings than through 
scores. Sound recording is the great equalizer among musical genres: regardless of a piece of 
music’s original social context, a record is a record, whether on the shelves of a research li- 
brary or on the home stereo system. 

By Tagg’s criterion of “theory and aesthetics,” Eno’s music would seem to be art music, if 
only because Eno himself has surrounded his music with a glittering halo of theory and aes- 
thetics in dozens of statements ranging from interviews and album liner notes to published 
articles. But the situation is more complex than that: Tagg’s distinguishing between popular 
and art music on the basis of an absence or presence of a body of theory and aesthetics is an 
increasingly dubious distinction. Paul Taylor’s fine, extensively annotated bibliography Popu- 
lar Music Since 1955: A Critical Guide to the Literature 8 devotes a chapter to “Artistic as- 
pects of popular music,” including citations of works concerned specifically with aesthetics, 
musical criticism and analysis, and songs as poetry. Finally, Eno’s music is non-anonymously 
authored, though a complicating factor is introduced by the double or multiple authorship of 
many of the pieces Eno has worked on, collective authorship being supposedly more charac- 
teristic of folk and popular music than of art music. To sum up, it would be impossible, on the 
basis of Tagg’s axiomatic triangle, to decide whether Eno’s music should be classified as “art” 
or “popular.” 

So much for this level of abstraction. Everyone knows that at least since the 1920s musicians 
have been deliberately blurring the distinction between popular, art, and folk music. Charles 
Ives and Aaron Copland wrote symphonic works incorporating American folk themes. Igor 
Stravinsky composed pieces like the jazz-inflected Ebony Concerto. Many critics consider the 
music of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane to be art of the highest order. And 
when we come to the rock music of the 1960s and beyond, the experimentation becomes in- 
creasingly intense. There are of course many examples of superficial blendings of pop and 
classical styles, such as Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” or the Swingle Singers’ 
jazzy renditions of Bach. There is everything from Joshua Rifkin’s Baroque Beatles Book 
(actually not so superficial as all that) to Muzak versions of “Yesterday.” 

Attempts at deeper syntheses of art and pop are sometimes categorized as art rock or classical 
rock. Such music includes not only the rock operas of the Who, the Kinks, and others, and the 
massive, virtuosic, grandiose compositions of 1970s groups like Yes and Emerson, Lake & 
Palmer, but also more restrained, subtle examples of “baroque or classical sound/structure” in 
rock, such as the Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up” or the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” 8 9 Other groups 


8 Paul Taylor, Popular Music Since 1955: A Critical Guide to the Literature (Boston: G.K. 
Hall & Co., 1985). 

9 Janell Duxbury, Rockin ’ the Classics and Classicizin ’ the Rock: A Selectively Annotated 
Discography , Discographies, Number 14 (Westport, Ct. and London: Greenwood Press, 
1985), 1 17. This extraordinary source provides a useful overview of this field of music. Inter- 
estingly, and perhaps inevitably, though, the discography’s method, like Tagg’s axiomatic 
triangle, proves unable to catch Eno’s unique blend of musical popularism and classicism in 
its net: he is represented by only two entries, both of them of marginal significance in terms of 
a total understanding of his work: Eno is cited as rockin’ the Pachelbel Canon on Discreet 
Music (though this is not so much a rock arrangement - the only instruments are strings - as a 


8 



often associated with the classical rock concept are the Moody Blues, the Electric Light Or- 
chestra, the New York Rock Ensemble, Procol Hamm, and Renaissance. 

The term “progressive rock” is one of the most useful yet exasperating within the rock orbit. 
The term gained currency in the late 1960s and early 1970s among rock critics and audiences, 
it meant, essentially, rock music with substance, rock music that was more than just enter- 
tainment or Top 40 pop, rock music that was serious, with something serious to say, whether 
that “something” involved a political or artistic message. Progressive rock music was heard 
on “underground,” progressive FM radio stations in the United States - stations whose disc 
jockeys did not have to follow some corporate line or the weekly dictates of the charts but 
could play what conscience and sensibility demanded - typically not singles, but cuts from 
albums featuring musicians thought to be in a creative or political sense above the rough and 
tumble of the music industry and its merely commercial demands. Progressive rock could be 
the brutal, straightforward rock and sexual-political posturing of the Rolling Stones, the ma- 
jestic, finely produced sound-tapestries of the Beatles, or the hip honesty and moralizing ver- 
bal pyrotechnics of Bob Dylan. It could be the uncompromising musicality and innovation of 
Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Queen, Traffic, Blind Faith, Steely Dan, or Frank 
Zappa. 

Bound up with the history of progressive rock - it is a term not much used since the late 
1970s - is the rather startling realization, by many critics as well as by some of its leading 
musicians, that certain “progressive” musical tendencies within the genre were too closely 
allied with classical techniques for comfort - in other words, that unbridled “progressivism” 
in rock could and did lead to a strange situation in which rock was risking its status as a new, 
innovative musical form and symbol of the youth culture through its increasing reliance on 
the harmonic, formal, and orchestrational trappings of the music whose cultural base it was 
supposed to be rebelling against. Thus progressive rock ultimately involved, and for many 
observers was epitomized by, the grandiose synthesizer gestures and elaborate formal layouts 
used by the groups that some commentators pigeon-hole separately under classical rock - 
groups like Yes, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, one reference source defines the 
genre as “a form of rock music in which electric instruments and rock-band formats are inte- 
grated with European classical motifs and orchestrations, typically forming extended, intri- 
cate, multisectional suites.” 10 The excesses of classicized progressive rock constituted one of 
the major reasons why many creative rock musicians, Eno among them, felt so refreshed 
when the development of the new wave genre in the late 1970s seemed to offer a progressive 
musical alternative outside the confines of the increasingly manneristic and self-stultified 
genre of progressive rock itself. 

I shall refer to the music of Eno’s early solo albums as “progressive rock” because in the his- 
torical matrix of rock genres - in the imperfect yet functional typology accepted by many for 
workaday purposes - that is where it belongs. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the 
allegedly counter-productive tendencies of the classicization of rock had run their course, 
great possibilities were glimpsed by a number of musicians, who at the time were unflinch- 
ingly referred to as “progressive.” Eno stands among the few who, in retrospect, succeeded in 


compositional “derangement” of the melody, and as having recorded with the Portsmouth 
Sinfonia (which really had nothing to do with rock music at all). 

10 Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, eds., The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll 
(New York: Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983), 447. 


9 



giving the impression of hopping gracefully from the progressive rock genre to the new wave, 
without making any great changes in his essential approach to music. All along, of course, 
Eno was coping, on both conceptual and practical levels, with entirely different musical gen- 
res, notably minimalism and post-Cage experimentalism, the overtly “classical” aspects of 
progressive rock never interested him much. The term “progressive rock” is not without its 
ambiguities, since for some its progressivism was a political or philosophical matter, and for 
others a purely musical tendency or ideal, furthermore, unlike many of rock’s sub-genres, 
progressive rock does not denote a specific musical style so much as a complex of styles, 
united, if at all, only through a common interest in musical experimentation and diversifica- 
tion. Progressive rock musicians were interested in playing about on the borderlines between 
musical genres, notably those between classical music, jazz, avant-garde music, non- Western 
music, and rock. 

Thus in spite of the problems associated with the term, progressive rock must be viewed as 
the generic background for Eno’s first recorded musical efforts. The term “art rock” is less 
suitable, primarily because of the inevitable association of the word “art” with the Western 
European classical music tradition. The leading proponent of the term “art rock” is John 
Rockwell, who in his fine article of that title in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History’ of Rock 
& Roll found the distinguishing feature of the genre in the self-consciously artistic attitude of 
its diverse practitioners. 11 Self-consciousness is what makes Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring not a 
primitive, but a primitivist piece, a similar act of removal or distancing is what made the mid- 
1970s performances of art-rockers like Patti Smith, or of Talking Heads who followed, not 
simply primitive rock shows, but statements about primitive rock shows. This sort of detach- 
ment, according to Rockwell, is one of the things that makes art rock “art.” Eno’s primacy of 
place in Rockwell’s scheme of things is shown by his placing Eno, along with Frank Zappa, 
the Velvet Underground, and Pink Floyd, in their own separate, unqualified discographical 
categories, all other art-rockers are grouped by subject-headings, some of them slyly deroga- 
tory - “Chart-Topping Classical Bombast” (Moody Blues, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes), 
“Arty Primitivism” (John Cale, Terry Riley, Patti Smith). The catholicity of Rockwell’s point 
of view, which deserves close attention by anyone interested in the shifting and blending of 
popular, art, and folk genres in the world of twentieth-century music, is also evident in his 
book All American Music, which finds Neil Young’s “rock populism and transcendental 
primitivism” alongside Milton Babbit’s serial structuralism, and Keith Jarrett’s “mystical fu- 
sion romanticism” rubbing shoulders with Laurie Anderson’s performance art. 12 

Brian Eno began his public career in the early 1970s working primarily within the genre of 
progressive rock, toying with the expectations that are part of the listener’s experience of any 
genre. In ways that we shall examine fully in Part II, he pushed back the boundaries of pro- 
gressive rock until much of his music could not be called rock at all by any stylistic criterion, 
lacking, as it did, drams, a steady pulse, and vocals. 

Most of Eno’s music is characterized by a certain simplicity of conception, a sense of confi- 
dence in making a simple thing work. This, along with a preoccupation with the formal ele- 
ments of music, is reminiscent of Mozartean classicism, certainly romantic breast-beating of 


11 John Rockwell, “Art Rock,” in Jim Miller, ed., The Rolling Stone 1 lustrated History’ of Rock 
& Roll (New York: Rolling Stone/Random House, 1976), 322-6. 

12 John Rockwell, All American Music: Composition in the Late 20th Century’, (New York: 
Knopf, 1983), table of contents. 


10 



the nineteenth-century variety finds few parallels in his work. Some of his ambient music is of 
such apparent surface simplicity that one critic, Jon Pareles, has questioned whether his con- 
ceptual approach’s allegedly bland results do not “hedge against questions of content or in- 
trinsic interest.” 13 Ed Naha has accused Eno of walking “the fine line between the musically 
artistic and autistic,” 14 while Lester Bangs has written of “still waters that don’t necessarily 
ran deep.” 15 

Such criticism illuminates a paradox that must be faced when confronting Eno’s music, a 
paradox that can be expressed in a number of ways. Is Eno’s music divinely simple or merely 
simplistic? Is it primal and elemental, or primitive and elementary? If it proceeds from a won- 
drous, enchanting “What if?” attitude, do the results sometimes call for a cynical “So what?” 
response? 16 Eno himself combines a sophisticated, well-read intellectual sensibility with a 
vulnerable, child-like curiosity, in an alchemical mixture as rare in the rock world as outside 
it. Faced with the paradox, the listener must ultimately make his own decision. 


13 Jon Pareles, “Riffs: Eno Uncaged,” Village Voice 27 (4 May 1982), 77. 

14 Ed Naha, “Review: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy’)” Crawdaddy (May 1975), 76. 

15 Lester Bangs, “Eno,” Musician, Player & Listener 21 (Nov. 1979), 43. 

16 Stephen Demorest, “The Discreet Charm of Brian Eno,” Horizon 21 (June 1978), 83. 


11 



CHAPTER TWO: 

BACKGROUND AND INFLUENCES 


In interviews, Eno has discussed his musical influences and ideas on a sizeable array of intel- 
lectual topics repeatedly and in considerable detail, while he has been guarded, if not posi- 
tively secretive, about his personal life - relationships, day-to-day movements, personal hab- 
its. In the published forms of interviews, the journalists do not even ask personal questions, so 
it is likely that among Eno’s ground rules for interviews is a prohibition on delving into purely 
biographical matters. While such guardedness is certainly refreshing enough when seen 
against the backdrop of scandal and confessional that typifies the press’s treatment of popular 
musicians, it leaves us at a bit of a loss in terms of portraying Eno as a human being. 

Nevertheless, the basic outlines of Eno’s life, or at least of his public life, are well known. 
Born on May 15, 1948, at Woodbridge in Suffolk, he was christened Brian Peter George St. 
John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno. His early education (1953-64) was under the nuns and broth- 
ers of the de la Salle order, Ipswich. Although brought up Catholic, he does not practice the 
religion, and in fact his main references to this aspect of his background have to do with the 
guilt feelings the church succeeded in instilling in him at a young age - feelings that even as 
an adult he has not fully exorcised. From 1964 to 1966 he pursued foundation studies at Ips- 
wich Art School, and in 1969 received his Diploma in Fine Art from Winchester Art School. 
That is the extent of his formal education, we shall return to his art school experiences below, 
as they decisively shaped his musical outlook. Throughout most of the early and middle 
1970s, Eno lived in London, working in recording studios, though he travelled and was on 
tour frequently. In 1978 he moved to a loft in New York City’s Greenwich Village and made 
himself very much a part of the vital new downtown music scene. Subsequent travels took 
him to San Francisco, among other places, where he lived for six months around 1980. During 
this period he spoke of the psychological wear and tear of frequent travel and moving, and 
eventually he moved back to England, where he lives to this day, although since 1979 he has 
continued to pursue a rigorous regimen of almost bi-monthly trips to countries all over the 
world, setting up his audio-visual installations. 

Eno’s personality is complex. While he is capable of expounding at length and in a seemingly 
authoritative fashion about musical and philosophical subjects, many interviewers have noted 
a certain self-effacing quality that comes across when one talks to the man: he needs to be 
sure that his interlocutors are following him, that his ideas are not sounding too pompous or 
outrageous, he blushes easily. Although his ambient music is quiet and contemplative, he has 
been described as an extrovert, a sociable person who is able to make friends easily and take 
on new situations confidently. Eno speaks in long yet clearly structured sentences, and his 
easy sense of humor comes through by means of varied inflections of his voice. 1 As an artist, 
and perhaps as a person as well, one of his primary assets is a profound capacity for wonder: 


1 Charles Amirkhanian, interviewer, “Eno at KPFA: 2 Feb. 1980, 13 March 1980, and 2 April 
1980,” seven 10-inch reels of 1/4” tape (private collection of Charles Amirkhanian, Berkeley, 
Ca.). A typescript was made of the first of these interviews: “Brian Eno interviewed 2/2/80 for 
KPFA Marathon by C. Amirkhanian, transcribed 10/29/83 [by] S. Stone.” In future references 
I shall cite the typescript as Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA.” 


12 



he never seems to stray far from a sense of the inherent mystery of the world, and that sense 
of mystery excites and motivates him. Eno’s favorite adjective is “interested.” The word de- 
notes to him more than a merely intellectual flirtation with a passing idea, when he is inter- 
ested in something, it has awakened that sense of wonder, and he is palpably “engaged” in it, 
in the sense of full, existential, personal engagement. 

Composers today have available to them the entire world of music: it is no further away than 
the local library or record store. One consequence of this state of affairs is that to an ever- 
increasing degree, the whole matter of “influences” is becoming less and less clear-cut. 
Things were simpler in earlier periods, and the historian’s task in dealing with earlier music is 
rather different. It is one thing to note that Bach copied out Vivaldi scores by hand, or to trace 
the history of the parody Mass in the sixteenth century: in those instances, the musical tradi- 
tion in question was insular to a greater or lesser extent, the music available to the composers 
was limited in quantity, style, and genre, and the biographical facts available to the researcher 
are at a minimum, when “influences” can be positively proclaimed, it usually represents a 
triumph of intrepid musicological sleuthing as well as a confirmation of the traditional, linear 
interpretation of music history. 

It is quite another thing to take note of the music that Eno has counted among his influences: 
in his case, the point to be made is that he exemplifies a new type of composer whose musical 
background is astonishingly diverse: he has exposed himself to a variety of traditions ranging 
from rock to classical, from avant-garde to experimental, as well as to a variety of non- 
Western musics such as Arabic, African, and Bulgarian. Today, the “chain of influence” is 
more likely to be a complex network or web, with many points of intersection that can be- 
come difficult or impossible to sort out. When the vast array of “influences” is processed and 
re -processed in the mental melting pot of a modern composer like Eno, the resulting works 
sometimes show definite ties with this or that tradition, but just as frequently, the individual 
piece will manifest no certain origins, the input of the “influences” having been so completely 
assimilated into the composer’s personal voice that no outstanding traces are left. Perhaps 
something similar may be said of some earlier composers, but this does not alter the radical 
difference between the contemporary and historical musical situations. 

Eno grew up in the English countryside, in the small Suffolk town of Woodbridge. The deci- 
sive musical influences stemmed, however, not from indigenous folk or popular traditions, but 
from two large U.S. air bases located within five miles of Woodbridge, which eventually 
housed about 15,000 G.I.’s. The many local cafes had juke-boxes well-stocked with contem- 
porary American popular music, and Eno had a sister who used to go to the PX stores and 
“come back with all these really very interesting records that you never heard in England oth- 
erwise. They never were on the radio.” 2 It was a situation strikingly similar to that of the 
young Beatles’ Liverpool, where sailors brought in the latest American records, which at- 
tracted young listeners for their contemporaneity as well as for their exotic quality. Eno has 
described the curious mix of music he heard like this: 

Feeble, weedy English pop music and then the American stuff, full of 
what I still find to be menace and strangeness. I listened to Chuck 
Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, I was a listener for a long, long time 


2 Kurt Loder, “Eno,” Synapse (Jan./Feb. 1979), 26-7. 


13 



- 1 used to sing, too, I was always singing a lot, Buddy Holly, Elvis. 

This was American music, African music, in the middle of the English 
countryside ... I think the echo on Elvis’s “Hearbreak Hotel” is better 
than the song itself, by far. Nobody could tell me what that was, in my 
family. They didn’t know what to make of that sound. It turns the stu- 
dio into a cave ... When I was young, the most overpowering sense of 
wonder was inspired in me by music. 

Eno, like many other English rock-musicians-to-be of his generation, has been harshly critical 
of his own country’s popular music of that period. “English music at that time was really bor- 
ing. Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele and ... just a lot of very poor imitations of the larger 
American stars.” 3 4 On another occasion, Eno used the phrase “Martian music” to describe the 
alien, other quality of the 1950s doo-wop he heard emanating from the G.I. culture of the air 
bases. 5 In 1981, he was to philosophize on the question of exactly why such music would 
have seemed so full of mystery to him, and on the lessons such experiences held for his own 
creative work: 

I suppose people here [in the U.S.] might think it’s strange to regard 
doo-wop as magical music, but I did, because in England we had no 
tradition of it whatsoever ... It could have been from another galaxy for 
all I knew. I was absolutely entranced by it, from the age of seven or 
eight, when I first heard those early songs like “Get A Job” [The Sil- 
houettes, 1958]. I thought, “This is just beautiful .” I had never heard 
music like this, and one of the reasons it was beautiful was because it 
came without a context. It plopped from outer space, in a sense. Now, 
in later life I realized that this removal of context was an important 
point in the magic of music. One of the things I’ve been concerned 
with quite a lot is to deliberately dismantle or shift contexts around so 
that something comes from an area where you didn’t expect it, or 
something appears and it has a certain mysteriousness to it. 6 

Eno’s imagination was galvanized by early rhythm and blues and rock’n’roll, and he would 
play certain records incessantly on his parents’ auto-repeat record player: “1 used to leave it on 
all day, every day.” 7 Eno was also exposed to big-band jazz: 

And then another [group] I heard was, funnily enough, the Ray Con- 
niff Singers. Because I had an uncle who had to leave the place he was 
living, and he parked his record collection with my parents for a while. 


3 Mark Howell, “From a Strangers Evening with Brian Eno ” Another Room (June/July 1981), 
n.p. 

4 Loder, “Eno,” 26. 

5 George Rush, “Brian Eno: Rock’s Svengali Pursues Silence,” Esquire 98 (Dec. 1982), 130. 

6 Jim Aikin, “Brian Eno,” Keyboard 7 (July 1981), 62. In another interview Eno cited Don 
and Juan’s “Chicken Necks” as another example of what he called “mystery music.” Loder, 
“Eno,” 26. 

7 Rob Tannenbaum, “A Meeting of Sound Minds: John Cage and Brian Eno,” Musician 83 
(Sept. 1985), 67. 


14 



And his taste was 40s big-band jazz. The sound of those voices on the 
Ray Conniff records I thought was superb. I was about nine or ten at 
this point. And every morning, before I went to school, I’d put one of 
those records on. I remember these winter mornings, hearing these 
amazingly lush, soft, silky voices, and I thought it was a beautiful 
sound. 8 

Again, Eno was fascinated by the sound itself, having at this point no historical or cultural 
context in which to place such music: “I was just interested in it, for some reason. I didn’t 
know where it came from or what jazz was.” 9 The Enos also had a player piano, which Eno 
“absolutely loved” and “played all the time. All we had were like old hymns, like ‘Jerusalem’ 
and so on, which I thought were beautiful. And I think that the kind of melancholy quality of 
those is something that’s actually persisted in anything I’ve done since.” 10 

Traces of all of these early musical influences show up in Eno’s own published musical out- 
put, which begins about a decade later. The sense of strangeness resulting from contextless- 
ness is something he has explicitly endeavored to capture in most of his music. Echoes of 
early rhythm and blues and rock’n’roll turn up in the “idiot energy” (the phrase is Eno’s) of 
some of the songs on his solo albums of the early 1970s - songs which occasionally borrow 
specific instrumental textures from music of the 1950s, whose generally economical and 
transparent arrangements Eno attempted to emulate. The fascination with Afro-American 
rhythms is most clearly marked in his 1981 collaboration with David Byrne, My Life in the 
Bush of Ghosts, though evident elsewhere as well. What Eno calls the “lush, soft, silky qual- 
ity” that he admired in the Ray Conniff Singers is a near-constant feature in his ambient mu- 
sic, finding its most literal expression in the electronically treated vocals of Music for Air- 
ports. And finally, the “melancholy” strains of the player piano hymns resonate particularly 
strongly in several of Eno’s ambient synthesizer pieces which resemble grand, textless, dia- 
tonic organ hymns. 

Among his influences from the popular music world of the 1960s, Eno has singled out for 
special mention the unique New York band the Velvet Underground and the prototypical Brit- 
ish rock band the Who. By this time, Eno’s conceptual world would have expanded to the 
point of having more of a context in which to place the music, and in the case of the Velvet 
Underground, context is all-important, since they were directly associated with the pop art 
movement of Andy Warhol, who used them to provide the music for his moveable multi- 
media show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, in 1965. Context was also important for the 
Who, who began as heroes of the Mod scene in England and were among the first to create 
concept albums, a development that culminated in their rock opera of 1969, Tommy. Both 
bands were known for their self-conscious primitivism, and they showed Eno “that it was 
possible to occupy an area between fine art sensibility and popular art, and have the ambiguity 
work.” 11 More specifically, Eno dreamed of a blend of music that would utilize the Who’s and 


s Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 67. In another interview Eno cited Jack Teagarden as an ex- 
ample of the kind of big-band jazz he heard from his uncle’s collection. Loder, “Eno,” 27. 

9 Loder, “Eno,” 26. 

10 Loder, “Eno,” 26. 

11 Larry Kelp, “Brian Eno: Making Fourth World Music in Record Studio,” Oakland Tribune, 
11 Feb. 1980, C-7. 


15 



Velvets’ approach with the more soulful sound of Afro-American music - a musical marriage 
of the “stiff, totalitarian” aspect of rock with the “fluid, sensual quality of black music”: 

I think it would make a saleable combination if Kraftwerk employed 
Parliament, or the other way around. It would be interesting if you had 
the Parliament group playing bass, and Kraftwerk playing the drums. 

There would be a cross-cultural hybrid, especially if everybody stuck 

12 

to their guns. 

Although Eno played clarinet with the Portsmouth Sinfonia, and although he has systemati- 
cally attacked the “pyramidical” social structure of the classical orchestra (in a crucial article 
treated in Chapter 4), he seldom discusses Western European art music in interviews. If he 
owes a debt to that tradition, it is to its avant-garde, experimental factions that rallied to John 
Cage’s proclamation in the 1950s and 1960s that “everything we do is music,” and to the 
group of composers who have followed paths set out by La Monte Young and Terry Riley and 
have come to be called “minimalists.” 

Eno read Cage’s epochal book Silence 13 in the 1960s. Glancing through its contents today, one 
is struck by the frequency of passages that presage Eno’s own approach to music and the phi- 
losophy of music. Cage quotes from an article by Christian Wolff: 

Notable qualities of this music, whether electronic or not, are monot- 
ony and the irritation that accompanies it. The monotony may lie in 
simplicity or delicacy, strength or complexity. Complexity tends to 
reach a point of neutralization: continuous change results in a certain 
sameness. It goes in no particular direction. There is no necessary con- 
cern with time as a measure of distance from a point in the past to a 
point in the future, with linear continuity alone. It is not a question of 
getting anywhere, of making progress, or having come from anywhere 
in particular, of tradition or futurism. There is neither nostalgia nor an- 
ticipation. Often the structure of a piece is circular . 14 

Though the sounding surfaces of Wolff’s examples - Pousseur’s Exercises de Piano and 
Stockhausen’s Klavierstiick XI - are about as diametrically opposed to Eno’s ambient music 
as conceiveably possible, the writer could be describing any number of Eno pieces written 
since 1975, and it is easy to imagine Eno in the 1960s reading such a passage and turning it 
over in his mind. Cage’s essay on Erik Satie likewise contains quotations that could almost 
have appeared in the liner notes to an album like Music for Airports, an album that is in a 
sense a response to the Frenchman’s challenge. Cage quotes Satie: 

Nevertheless, we must bring about a music which is like furniture - a 
music, that is, which will be part of the noises of the enviromnent, will 
take them into consideration. I think of it as melodious, softening the 
noises of the knives and forks, not dominating them, not imposing it- 


12 Roman Kozak, “Math Qualities of Music Interest Eno,” Billboard 90 (13 May 1978), 51. 

13 John Cage, Silence (Middletown, Ct.: Wesleyan University Press, 1976, first published 
1961). 

14 Cage, Silence, 54. 


16 



self. It would fill up those heavy silences that sometimes fall between 
friends dining together. It would spare them the trouble of paying at- 
tention to their own banal remarks. And at the same time it would neu- 
tralize the street noises which so indiscretely enter into the play of 
conversation. To make such music would be to respond to a need. 13 

Eno’s own philosophy of ambient music is not so peevish as Satie’s, and Eno has been more 
interested in enhancing and incorporating the environment’s extraneous noises than in neutral- 
izing them. Nonetheless, 

the parallels are obvious. Cage’s description of Satie’s proto- 
minimalist work Vexations - a piece lasting, in Cage’s estimate, 
“twenty-four hours, 840 repetitions of a fifty-two beat piece itself in- 
volving a repetitive structure: A, A 1, A, A 2, each A thirteen measures 
long” 16 - immediately brings to mind Eno’s highly repetitive piece 
“Discreet Music,” in which a couple of short synthesizer melodies me- 
ander, repeat, and randomly overlap over a period of thirty minutes, 
and Eno’s recent audio-visual installations, in which repeating, over- 
lapping cycles can go on for as long as six weeks. In discussing Satie’s 
music to accompany the sounds of knives and forks, Cage says that “It 
is evidently a question of bringing one’s intended actions into relation 
with the ambient unintended ones.” 17 Although Eno has never publicly 
said as much, this reference to “ambient” sounds is very likely the 
genesis of Eno’s own concept of ambient music, or at least the source 
of his use of the word. Later on the same page, Cage characteristically 
defines silence as “ambient noise.” Cage quotes Satie again: 

They will tell you I am not a musician. That’s right ... Take the Fils des 
Etoiles or the Morceaux en forme de poire, En habit de cheval or the 
Sarabandes, it is clear no musical idea presided at the creation of these 
works. 18 

Again, although one may not be exactly sure how to interpret Satie’s blend of irony, bitter- 
ness, and wit, the statement “I am not a musician” was taken up eagerly by Eno in the 1970s, 
and became almost his motto or credo, however numerous the misunderstandings to which it 
has given rise may be. (I shall return to this issue in Chapter 3.) Eno specified that it was the 
“systematic” Satie with whom he strongly identified: “He was a systems composer, you know, 
planning chord changes by numerical techniques. In the midst of extraordinary chromatic 
experimentalism, with everyone doing bizarre things, he just wrote these lovely little pieces of 
music.” 19 


15 Cage, Silence, 76. 

16 Cage, Silence, 78. 

17 Cage, Silence, 80. 

18 Cage, Silence, 79. 

19 Stephen Demorest, “The Discreet Charm of Brian Eno: An English Pop Theorist Seeks to 
Redefine Music,” Horizon 21 (June 1978), 85. 


17 



Apart from such specific references, there is much in Silence that clearly influenced Eno: the 
fascination with chance operations, which Eno was to incorporate in his deck of oracle cards, 
the Oblique Strategies, in the mid-1970s (see Chapter 4), the Zen anecdotes and the excur- 
sions into Eastern philosophy, the mildly, jocosely irreverent attitude towards canonical prin- 
ciples of Western art music, with regard to both musical structure and social setting, the un- 
conventional typography and free mix of musical and written media (such as in Cage’s “45’ 
for a Speaker”), the idea of “Composition as Process” (another chapter title), and the ever- 
repeated axiom that all sounds have the potential for being experienced as music. Silence 
served Eno, like countless young artists and musicians of the last few decades, as a somewhat 
ad-hoc, yet more or less comprehensive survey of major developments in experimental music 
in the early and mid-twentieth century. 

Eno has acknowledged Cage’s influence on several occasions. The first published reference to 
Cage is in a 1972 interview. Eno was discussing the tape-delay technique he had recently been 
exploring with Robert Fripp, the results of which can be heard on their 1973 album No Pussy- 
footing. Eno was aware that Terry Riley had just gone public with a similar delay system. 
Then he added (if we are to accept this as a literal quotation): “Actually, soon afterwards I 
found out that John Cage had discovered the same things years ago. But he was a creep, and 
anyway he didn’t know how to use it!” 20 By 1977, Eno no longer had to adopt the aggressive 
attitude of the enfant terrible feeling his oats: ‘“Art is a net,’ Cage said. Years later I read 
Morse Peckham. He said, ‘Art is safe.’ I realized that’s what Cage meant. You’re creating a 
false world where you can afford to make mistakes.” 21 

In 1980, after again acknowledging Cage’s influence on the development of his ideas, Eno 
revealed that he had sent Cage a score of his around 1966, and that he had received in return 
“like a circular, 1 guess, [that] he sends out to the thousands of people a week who send him 
scores, and it said, ‘thank you very much for the score. It has been duly filed and appreciated,’ 
or something of that type.” Eno added, with a self-deprecatory laugh, “I was very pleased to 
get this accolade from John Cage.” 22 

More revealing still are comments Eno made in a 1981 interview. Calling Cage “the most 
influential theorist” he had had at a certain point in his life, “a completely liberating factor,” 
Eno goes on to say that Cage “reintroduced the notion of spirituality into the making of mu- 
sic.” Much musical composition in the first half of the twentieth century struck Eno as being a 
sterile enterprise: “The history of music was seen as the breakdown of the old tonal system 
and the move into chromaticism and the tone row, and everything was being discussed in 
these terms.” The formal and technical agenda had replaced or submerged aesthetic concerns, 
and to be a good composer, what you had to do was understand what had happened on a for- 
mal level and then break certain of those rules. Now clearly, this has never been what good 
music was about. In fact, the quality that one seeks is the spiritual quality, which incidentally 
sometimes breaks the rules. But it’s incidental, you know? It sometimes keeps those rules as 
well. So what Cage did that was so important was to say, “Look, when you make music you 
are acting as a philosopher. You can either do that consciously or you can do it unconsciously, 
but you’re doing it.” To be reminded of that was the most important thing. For me it wasn’t a 


20 Richard Williams, “Crimso Meets Eno!,” Melody Maker 47 (4 Nov. 1972), 65. 

21 Frank Rose, “Four Conversations with Brian Eno,” Village Voice 22 (28 Mar. 1977), 69. 

22 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 7. 


18 



reminder, it was a realization. It was something I had only dimly imagined before. So though 1 
disagree with much of the specific content of his philosophy, 1 think it’s important that he 
introduced that change of emphasis. 23 

One of the points of Cage’s program was to make musical compositions “the continuity of 
which [are] free of individual taste and memory (psychology) and also of the literature and 
‘traditions’ of the art.’’ 24 As we shall see, Eno is emphatically not interested in making music 
that is “free of individual taste and memory (psychology)”: looming large in his artistic inten- 
tions is a desire to make music that has a frankly seductive surface and arouses the emotion of 
wonder, and, at least in recent years, he has consciously tried to create a unique sense of 
physical space for each piece. 

In 1985, Rob Tannenbaum scored a remarkable journalistic coup by bringing together John 
Cage and Brian Eno for the first time. In the 1980s, Eno has been somewhat reluctant to give 
interviews, apparently bored with repeating himself, and often wondering “why people just 
don’t research the extant material.” 2 ’ Tannenbaum coaxed him out with the prospect of meet- 
ing Cage - who was in London for performances of the Cunningham Dance Company which 
featured his music - and doing a joint interview. Among other topics, the two amicably dis- 
cussed their methods of composition, their knowledge of each other’s work, their status as 
legends, their views on modern music, and the role of the composer. Tannenbaum reports that 
Eno was deferential, seeming “reluctant to quiz Cage on anything other than gardening,” 26 a 
shared interest. At one point, Tannenbaum posed the dilemma: “Both of you have defended 
the idea that you can be a good composer whether you’re trained or untrained ... So what is it 
that separates untrained composers who aren’t worth listening to from untrained composers 
who are?” Cage responded with a characteristic conceptual twist: 

I think the term “worth listening to” depends on who’s listening. I 
think it would be right to say that no matter what, if it is sounds, one 
could listen to it. I haven’t yet heard sounds that I didn’t enjoy, except 
when they became too musical. I have trouble, I think, when music at- 
tempts to control me. I have trouble, for instance, with the Hallelujah 
Chorus. But if the sound is unintentional, then I have no problem . 27 

Eno picked up the train of thought and said: 

That’s right. Some sound comes so heavily laden with intention that 
you can’t hear it for the intentions ... But the question you asked about 
trained and untrained musicians ... In fact, I must say that [to Cage] 
you’re the reason, or you’re the excuse for why I became a composer. 

The alibi, I should say. Because I never learned to lay an instrument, 
and still haven’t. But I had always been very fascinated by music, and 
when I was in art college, I was shown your book Silence. And in fact, 

I saw several concerts of your music, came to London to hear you 


23 Aikin, “Eno,” 60. 

24 Cage, Silence, 59. 

25 Stephen Grant, “Brian Eno Against Interpretation,” Trouser Press 9 (Aug. 1982), 28. 

26 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 66. 

27 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 69-70. 


19 


speak, and so on. And it was that same thing again - there’s a lot of 

space here, a lot of new territory. It’s a territory that nobody had yet 

28 

had the time to say you couldn’t do something." 

Eno did homage to Cage in 1976 by producing an album that included performances of five 
Cage pieces. 2Q If there is a gulf that separates the two men, it ultimately has to do with age and 
background. Cage is the elder statesman of the avant-garde, he studied with Schoenberg, and 
his views on music, as summarized in Silence, revolve around developments in the Western 
art music tradition - indeed represent developments more or less specific to that tradition, 
some of his chance music bears an aesthetic surface strikingly similar to that of serially- 
composed music, to which it is so adamantly opposed at the philosophical level. Eno’s musi- 
cal roots are in popular music traditions, and this is reflected not only in his somewhat super- 
ficial knowledge of the classical tradition and his disdain for its institutional infrastructure, 
but in his music itself, which is generally by far more consonant and accessible than much of 
Cage’s, even when it is not outright rock. 

Cage’s influence on Eno has thus been far-reaching, but as is true of Cage’s impact on many 
composers, it has been more conceptual than specifically musical in nature. A more concrete 
musical influence has been that of minimalist composers such as La Monte Young, Terry Ri- 
ley, and Steve Reich, whose music has influenced Eno more than any other, with the possible 
exception of the popular music of the 1950s already discussed. For Eno, minimalism repre- 
sents the most significant and potentially fruitful aesthetic point of departure in the 20th cen- 
tury - a new musical meta-idea, so to speak, which promises untold riches not simply in the 
development of compositional techniques, but in the development of new ways of listening. 

The pre -history of minimalism goes back at least to Satie’s Vexations. But one of the earliest 
examples of minimalism proper is by Terry Riley (b. 1935), who, shortly after graduating 
from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in composition, wrote the seminal 
work In C (1964). The score consists of fifty-three notated melodic fragments, which the per- 
formers, who are variable in number, are to play one after the other, in synchronization with a 
steadily repeated “pulse” on the top two C’s of the piano keyboard, repeating any given frag- 
ment an indeterminate number of times and pausing between fragments as they see fit. The 
piece ends after everyone reaches the fifty-third fragment. Typical performances last between 
forty-five and ninety minutes, though one In C marathon in Mexico City in 1982 lasted for 
three hours. The effect of the music depends to a large extent upon the quality of the interac- 
tion among the musicians in the ensemble. Thus a high degree of repetition and a requirement 
of active listening by both performers and audience are built into the structure of the piece. 

Although Eno has spoken with admiration of Riley’s music, a more decisive minimalist influ- 
ence on his work was Steve Reich’s (b. 1936) phase tape pieces. In a 1985 interview he sin- 
gled out Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain as “probably the most important piece that I heard, in that it 
gave me an idea I’ve never ceased being fascinated with - how variety can be generated by 
very, very simple systems.” Reich made short tape loops of a black preacher saying “It’s 
gonna rain,” so that what we hear is this one phrase incessantly repeated over and over again. 
The tape machines are running at slightly different speeds, however, so that as the piece pro- 
gresses, the loops gradually shift out of phase with each other. Eno comments: 


28 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 70. 

29 Jan Steele and John Cage, Voices and Instruments, Obscure/Editions EG OBS 5, 1976. 


20 



And a very interesting thing happens to your brain, which is that any 
information which is common, after several repetitions, you cease to 
hear. You reject the common information, rather like if you gaze at 
something for a long time, you’ll cease to really see it. You’ll see any 
aspect of it that’s changing, but the static elements you won’t see ... 

The amount of material there is extremely limited, but the amount of 

TO 

activity it triggers in you is very rich and complex. 

Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain was a remarkable experiment in the psychology of musical percep- 
tion: for although one could hear each individual voice one at a time if one tried, far more 
fascinating was the composite, subtly changing, rhythmic texture that arose from the phase 
shifts. New, unforeseen musical events were formed as it were out of the chinks between the 
words, the listener’s attention could be riveted by any one of a multitude of possible compos- 
ite patterns, and flip back and forth between patterns of interpretation. A visual analog to such 
flipping might be those diagrams used in experiments on perception that are open to different 
interpretations: a vase in silhouette becomes two heads facing each other, or a rabbit becomes 
a duck. The graphic artist M.C. Escher made such perceptual shifts a major component of his 
style, for instance in his mind-bending, multiple-perspective stairway drawings. 31 In music, 
Reich’s phase shifts constituted a use of repetition inviting or requiring a new mode of listen- 
ing, if one listened in the old way, all one heard was hundreds of boring repetitions of the 
same phrase. Eno was aware of this, and even found an analogy in the biological world: 

There’s an essay called “What the Frog’s Eye Tells the Frog’s Brain,” 
by Warren McCulloch, who discovered that a frog’s eyes don’t work 
like ours. Ours are always moving: we blink, we scan. We move our 
heads. But a frog fixes its eyes on a scene and leaves them there. It 
stops seeing all the static parts of the environment, which become in- 
visible, but as soon as one element moves, which could be what it 
wants to eat - the fly - it is seen in very high contrast to the rest of the 
environment. It’s the only thing the frog sees and the tongue comes out 
and takes it. Well, I realized that what happens with the Reich piece is 
that our ears behave like a frog’s eyes. Since the material is common to 
both tapes, what you begin to notice are not the repeating parts but the 
sort of ephemeral interference patterns between them. Your ear tele- 
scopes into more and more fine detail until you’re hearing what to me 
seems like atoms of sound. That piece absolutely thrilled me, because I 
realized then that I understood what minimalism was about. The crea- 
tive operation is listening. It isn’t just a question of a presentation 
feeding into a passive audience. People will sometimes say about 
Reich’s piece, “Oh yes, that one with that voice which keeps hainmer- 


30 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 68. 

31 See E.H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology’ of Pictorial Representa- 
tion , the A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1956, National Gallery of Art, Washington 
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), 5, 244. 


21 



ing into your head,” and indeed, if you’re not especially listening to it 
that’s exactly what it is. 32 

Reich went on to develop this technique in such works as Violin Phase (1967), later works 
such as Music for a Large Ensemble (1978) and Tehillim (1982) abandon strict phase tech- 
nique, but continue to explore the possibilities of long-term repetitions of one sort or another. 
As Eno said, “Reich sort of abandoned that system as a way of working, which is rather fortu- 
nate because that meant I could carry on with it [laughs]. And Music for Airports is one of the 
products of that.” 3 ’ In the liner notes to his 1970 composition Four Organs, Reich stressed his 
belief in the expressive power of gradual processes in music, and the importance of not bury- 
ing structure in mathematical formulae, in a statement which could almost be by Eno himself: 
“The use of hidden structural devices in music never appealed to me. Even when all the cards 
are on the table and everyone hears what is gradually happening in a musical process, there 
are still enough mysteries to satisfy all." 34 

Eno’s experience of hearing what he has called the “aural moire patterns” 35 of It’s Gonna Rain 
was additionally refreshing on account of its seeming to run against the trend towards the un- 
necessarily complex and grandiose in rock music: 

I heard this in the early 1970s, which was just at the time that most of 
the people that I was involved with were doing exactly the opposite 
thing. Twenty-four track recorders had just become current, and the 
idea was to make more and more grotesque, Gothic pieces of music, 
filling up every space and every corner of the canvas. And to hear 
something that was as alive as this Reich piece, and so simple, was a 
real shock to me ... I thought, “I can do this. It’s not hard.” [laughs] 

La Monte Young (b. 1935) is a composer whose conceptual works fitted perfectly into the 
anything-goes, avant-garde, anarchic artistic atmosphere of the 1960s. In his Composition 
1960 #3 the duration of the piece is announced and the audience is told they may do whatever 
they wish until it is over. In Composition 1960 #6 the performers stare at the audience as if 
they were the performers. Another 1960 composition contains only two notes, B and F#, “to 
be held for a long time.” John Lennon and Yoko Ono were later to indulge in this genre of 
composition, in one Lennon/Ono piece, fans blow open the pages of a Beethoven symphony, 
and the players are directed to play whatever falls under their eye. 37 But it is Young’s works in 
the specifically repetitive realm that inspired Eno’s imagination. In his 1960 piec e X for Henry’ 
Flynt , the performer is instructed to produce a single unspecified sound over and over for an 
unspecified interval of time. Eno performed this piece on piano around 1967 - it was “the first 


32 Anthony Korner, “Aurora Musicalis,” Artforum 24:10 (Summer 1986), 79. 

33 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 68. 

34 Steve Reich, liner notes to John Cage: Three Dances, Steve Reich, Four Organs, Capi- 
tol/Angel S36059, 1973. 

35 John Hutchinson, “Brian Eno: Place #13,” color brochure (Dublin: Douglas Hyde Gallery, 
1986), n.p. 

36 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 68. 

37 Eric Salzman, Twentieth-Century’ Music: An Introduction , Prentice-Hall History of Music 
Series, H. Wiley Hitchcock, ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1974), 187. 


22 



piece of music I ever performed publicly” 38 - by playing large clusters of notes with both 
forearms once a second for a period of an hour. He later philosophized on what the piece had 
taught him: 

Now, until one became accustomed to this fifty-odd note cluster, the 
resultant sound was fairly boring. But after that first ten minutes, it be- 
came progressively more absorbing. This was reflected in the rate at 
which people left the room - those who didn’t leave within ten min- 
utes stayed for the whole perfonnance. One began to notice the most 
minute variations from one crash to the next. The subtraction of one 
note by the right elbow missing its top key was immediately and dra- 
matically obvious. The slight variations of timing became major com- 
positional changes, and the constant changes within the odd beat fre- 
quencies being formed by all the discords began to develop into me- 
lodic lines. This was, for me, a new use of the error principle and led 
me to codify a little law that has since informed much of my work - 
“Repetition is a form of change.” 


38 Aikin, “Eno,” 60. 

39 Brian Eno, text for a lecture to Trent Polytechnic, 1974, quoted in Brian Eno and Russell 
Mills, More Dark Than Shark, commentaries by Rick Poynor, designed by Malcolm Garrett, 
photography by Martin Axon, additional photography by David Buckland (London: Faber and 
Faber, 1986), 43. 


23 



CHAPTER THREE: 

ON OTHER MUSIC: ENO AS CRITIC 


Eno’s impressions of the world of music were gathered primarily in the 1950s, 1960s, and 
1970s. During those years, he was exposed to a great deal of rock and other popular music, a 
good deal of experimental and avant-garde music, a fair quantity of non-Western music, and 
some traditional Western art music. Since reaching the age of thirty-two in 1980, however, 
Eno has evinced less interest in keeping up with contemporary trends and with listening to 
other people’s music in general. The club scene had begun to pall on him, as he explained in 
1986: 

I used to go to clubs now and again, but I gradually stopped going be- 
cause I couldn’t find one that did the kind of thing that I wanted. The 
accent of a club is towards somehow speeding you up, presumably 
with the idea of obliterating what is assumed to be an otherwise aver- 
age existence. Well, I wanted the opposite of that. I wanted to find 
places that would actually be slower, bigger, more open and would 
make me think in some interesting way. Clubs, in fact, prevent me 
from thinking . 1 

It is a fairly common phenomenon among composers that after a certain point in their creative 
lives, they lose the desire or will to listen to a great deal of other music. In 1985, Eno said: “I 
don’t listen to records much.” The interviewer asked, “Is that a deliberate thing, or do you 
find you just don’t want to?” Eno answered: 

I don’t think about it. I don’t have a record player, funnily enough. I 
think life’s too short to listen to records, at the moment. Well, I do lis- 
ten to some things, but I usually like to listen to the same thing over 
and over for months. 

I’m quite happy to accept that I don’t know most of what’s going on in 
the world of music. I never have done. You have a choice when you 
get interested in culture. You have a choice of trying to absorb it all, 
the American style of “doing the sights” in two days, or else you can 
just decide: “I’ll stay in this one place, because I like it here anyway, 
and I’ll really understand this. I’ll really find out about it.” That’s what 
I do . 2 

In 1982, Eno was pessimistic about the public value of airing his views on music (after having 
done precisely that for a decade, it should be added). He felt that he had run out of interesting 
things to say about pop music, and that whenever he started talking about it, people stopped 


1 Brian Eno, “Works Constructed with Sound and Light: Extracts from a talk given by Brian 
Eno following the opening of his video installation, Copenhagen, January 1986,” color bro- 
chure (London: Opal, Ltd., 1986), n.p. 

2 Jensen, “Sound of Silence,” 25. 


24 



listening. More than that, he wanted to distance himself from pop philosophically: “Pop music 
isn’t by any means the central issue of my life, it’s hardly a peripheral one.” 3 

Eno has always had paradoxical views on the subject of rock music, and even with his solo 
progressive rock albums of the early 1970s, he was in a sense not so much making rock music 
as he was making music about rock music. As we noted in Chapter One, critic John Rockwell 
has singled out such a self-conscious attitude as the unifying factor behind the genre of art 
rock, and if Stravinsky was right in saying that the real criticism of a piece of music lies in 
other pieces that are “about” that piece, then we should expect to find Eno’s real critical voice 
in his music itself. However committed to his art he has been and continues to be, Eno is si- 
multaneously curiously aloof, removed from everyday pop realities. In 1974, early in his ca- 
reer, he was interested in somehow uniting the two kinds of music that interested him most, 
the “fiercely intellectual, fiercely anti-physical” quality of avant-garde music and the “fiercely 
physical, fiercely anti-intellectual” quality of rock. “I wanted to try to find a meeting of the 
two which would actually not be frightened of either force. Rock musicians are frightened of 
any kind of discussion of what they do ... I do think that rock music is the most important art 
form right now.” 4 

The key concept here is his reference to rock as an art form. It was a concept that was idealis- 
tically shared by many musicians, critics, and fans in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For Eno, 
rock held out this possibility - that music could be mentally stimulating as well as sensuously 
accessible, intellectual as well as physical, conceptual as well as popular. That this was more 
often an ideal than a reality was one of the main lessons of his experiences with Roxy Music. 
In 1975 he discussed their early and subsequent music: 

If I listen to the first album now, I still find it a bold statement. But 
what happened is what happens to most bands: they become successful 

Unfortunately, if you want to make a lot of money in rock music you 
have one good idea and then you do it again and again. You don’t even 
have to have a good, original idea if you conform to the existing pat- 
tern . 5 

Clearly, if Eno had once proclaimed rock the most important contemporary art form, he 
stopped far short of embracing all rock music as being equally valuable, and was only too 
aware of the homogenizing pressures of the music industry. In a 1980 interview he argued 
strongly for risk-taking and experimentation, criticizing rock musicians for being too nar- 
rowly goal-oriented, unwilling to “dabble and play.” “Any music worth anything is born in 
clumsiness and chaos ... Rock isn’t dangerous any more.” Eno thought that rock was losing 
one of its greatest strengths, its ability to incorporate ideas from a variety of musical tradi- 
tions. Rock was becoming “a progressively more insular form.” 6 


3 Steven Grant, “Brian Eno Against Interpretation,” Trouser Press 9 (Aug. 1982), 28. 

4 Cynthia Dagnal, “Eno and the Jets: Controlled Chaos,” Rolling Stone 169 (12 Sept. 1974), 
16. 

5 Allan Jones, “Eno - Class of ‘75,” Melody Maker 50 (29 Nov. 1975), 14. 

6 Bruce Dancis, “Studio Plays Big Role in Music Composition, Says Brian Eno,” Billboard 92 
(22 March 1980), 29. 


25 



Part of Eno’s criticism of rock doubtless stemmed from the fact that after his collaborations 
with David Bowie and Talking Heads in the late 1970s, he found himself personally less 
drawn to rock as a medium. With those collaborations, he felt, at least temporarily, that he had 
taken rock as far as he wanted to go with it. He began to draw less sustenance from the types 
of sound that rock had to offer. In 1982, he said: 

Effectively, what I’ve done is abandoned rock music, because, for me, 
rock isn’t capable of producing that spiritual quality anymore. And, in 
fact, I don’t really hear anything at the moment that disputes my feel- 
ing. Despite all the criticism that’s been made of psychedelic music, it 

7 

certainly was committed to the production af an expanded awareness. 

And a year later: 

I don’t get the feeling of discovering new worlds from pop music that I 
used to get, just of being shown old ones over and over. One automati- 
cally thinks that’s because I’m getting old, which is true but that 
doesn’t mean one is getting jaded. I still get feeling and experience 

o 

from other areas, but not rock. 

More recently, Eno made the following personal observation: 

One of the nice things about the kind of music I’m doing now is that it 
makes me feel quite unimportant. I like that feeling. Rock music, on 
the other hand, tends to make you feel very important . 7 8 9 

How much of Eno’s loss of interest in rock music is due to personal factors - his own musical 
background and development - and how much may be attributed to a real stagnation in the 
field of rock music itself? The question is a complex one, and there is no simple answer. Some 
rock critics have tended to extol the music of the 1950s and 1960s, and to denigrate the 1970s 
and 1980s as a time of homogenization, commercialization, and creative stagnation. The late 
1960s are frequently portrayed as a kind of golden age of experimentation, variety, and in- 
tense musical ferment, in contrast with the following period of bland corporate rock. The crit- 
ics who make such statements are of course themselves children of the 1950s and 1960s, in- 
evitably tending to see the music of their youth as belonging to a kind of golden age. Many 
who grew up in the 1930s and 1940s on the music of the big bands, Broadway, and Tin Pan 
Alley lost all interest in the development of popular music beyond those particular halcyon 
days. 

Critics with a sociological bent like Simon Frith go so far as to define rock as the music of 
youth, and make no further bones about it. 10 There is plenty of statistical data on age-linked 
patterns of music consumption to back him up. After reaching the age of thirty or so, people in 


7 George Rush, “Brian Eno: Rock’s Svengali Pursues Silence,” Esquire 98 (Dec. 1982), 132. 

8 Mick Brown, “On Record: Brian Eno,” Sunday Times Magazine, 31 Oct. 1982, 10. 

9 Jensen, “Sound of Silence,” 25. 

10 Simon Frith, Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock'n’Roll (New York: 
Pantheon Books, 1981). 


26 



Britain and the United States buy few rock records, and are inclined to tune in to radio sta- 
tions that offer “adult contemporary” music as well as a significant proportion of oldies. 11 

To some extent, Eno can be said to be following the pattern of his generation in rejecting or at 
least abandoning rock music on growing into full adulthood. For most people over the age of 
thirty the social context for rock music diminishes, and for musicians, particularly creative 
ones of Eno ’s talents, the sounds of ordinary rock are almost bound to start sounding repeti- 
tive and worn. Yet it ought also to be acknowledged that in the late 1960s, when Eno was ab- 
sorbing rock music at a great rate, a peculiar conjunction of the popular and avant-garde mu- 
sical worlds was taking place - a conjunction not exactly without historical parallels (think of 
the fascination jazz held for traditional composers in the 1930s, the cool jazz and third stream 
music of the 1950s, and the new wave music and performance art of the late 1970s and early 
1980s), but a conjunction that provided an ideal cultural backdrop for Eno’s own developing 
ideas. The late 1960s were the age of happenings, of pop art, of the Beatles’ most progressive 
period, of rock music appearing to matter in spheres musical, political, and intellectual. It was 
also the era of pysychedelic music, which Eno singled out as a phenomenon whose ideal 
value and purpose - the production of an expanded awareness - he has found lacking in the 
inn of more recent rock. 

If the pop/art cultural interaction of the late 1960s provided the twenty-year-old Eno with 
broad-ranging stimulation and plenty of raw material for his own theories, and if the Eno of 
the 1980s has abandoned rock after having repeatedly criticized it broadly and incisively, in 
the 1970s he would still leap to its defense when he felt it was being treated pompously by the 
wrong people for the wrong reasons. In 1978 he reportedly let loose the following diatribe: 

One of the things I’m finding quite infuriating at the moment is the 
continuous attempt by middle-class critics to validate rock music. 

They’re saying to people, “You can’t fucking hear anything because 
you’re dumb, but this or that is terribly important.” That’s no basis for 
liking something. If you approach something on that basis, “God, this 
is important,” then it doesn’t give you any real information. 

Rock music is such a liberated fonn, and will remain that way as long 

as the middle-class critics stay off it. It doesn’t have any snobbishness 

about its development. People aren’t afraid of just playing old Chuck 

Berry riffs still, twenty years later. There aren’t all those petty restric- 

12 

tions about how you’ve got to innovate, it’s got to be new. 


11 The demographics of record consumption is actually a complex subject, with hard data not 
always easy to come by or interpret. A 1985 joint market survey by the Recording Industry 
Association of America and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers found that 
“the demographic breakdown showed the staying power of the Big Chill generation and its 
elders - the 35-plus demographic accounted for 26% of prerecorded music purchased, with 
young people age 30-34 buying 11%. Younger listeners, however, held sway, with a total of 
63% - the 25-29 group, 14%, 20-24, 15%, 15-19, 25%, and 10-14, 9%.” Bill Holland, “Cas- 
settes Take 2-1 Lead Over Vinyl in Survey,” Billboard 98:50 (13 Dec. 1986), 73. 

12 Lee Moore, “Eno = MC Squared,” Creem 10 (Nov. 1978), 68. 


27 



The apparent contradiction between this statement and Eno’s own criticisms of the trap of 
repetitiveness that befalls rock musicians may be partially resolved if we recognize his posi- 
tion as a straddler on a fence between two worlds: “1 have different circles of friends, and 
some of the people I know come from so-called serious music backgrounds and others are 
from popular music backgrounds. And whenever I’m with one group, I’m always defending 
the other.” 13 

Out of the vast array of rock musicians active in the 1960s, Eno has found only a handful in- 
teresting enough to bring up in interviews. In 1980 he wished to set himself apart from what 
he called the “cultural myth” represented by groups like the Rolling Stones - a myth that 

has to do with the view of the musician or artist as an impulsive, drug- 
taking romantic. I don’t reject that view, I know some artists like that 
and they do good work as well. But there’s another kind of artist who 
thinks about what they’re doing and talks about what they’re doing 
and wants to articulate it and who doesn’t believe as some do that talk- 
ing about it reduces its mystique or deflates the work ... I think you can 
make a work richer by seeding it with a number of connotations, 
which you can do by talking about it. I suppose my difference from 
[groups like the Rolling Stones] is that one has the sense they impro- 
vise at almost every level. I don’t - except at certain levels . 14 

Onstage, especially during the 1970s when they increasingly played to audiences numbering 
in the tens of thousands, the Rolling Stones’ musical act was notoriously unpolished - but this 
was part of the whole myth: the Stones were cultural symbols who just happened to sing and 
play instillments, and they played out of tune, played sloppily and lost the beat, almost with a 
vengeance. They were allowed to, because part of the whole idea of rock music at that level 
was that it was music that anybody could play. When Eno would say he was not a musician, 
however, he meant something quite different, as we shall see later in this chapter, he resented 
the kind of musical thoughtlessness epitomized by the Rolling Stones. He indeed used impro- 
visatory techniques himself, but always in the context of a larger plan - in the context of the 
process of shaping an immaculately polished musical product. His interest in improvisation 
was reflected in his appraisal of Bob Dylan albums like Blonde on Blonde of 1966. He sus- 
pected that Dylan had used a technique of writing lyrics rather like his own: “When I’ve got a 
set of sounds that I think works musically in an interesting way, then I listen to those sounds 
and try to make them into words. It’s a bit like automatic writing, the way you scribble until 
words start to appear.” 15 

Eno has singled out a number of musicians whom he feels consciously sought to realize the 
potential of that grand new musical instrument - the recording studio: Glenn Gould (whose 
technique of recording many performances and editing them together Eno greatly admired), 
Jimi Hendrix (who would fill as many as twenty-six separate tracks on a thirty-two-track tape 


13 Rob Tannenbaum, “A Meeting of Sound Minds: John Cage and Brian Eno,” Musician 83 
(Sept. 1985), 106. 

14 Charles Amirkhanian, “Brian Eno interviewed 2/2/80 for KPFA Marathon by C. Amirkha- 
nian, transcribed 10/29/83 [by] S. Stone,” unpublished typescript, 13. 

15 Frank Rose, “Eno: Scaramouche of the Synthesizer,” Creem 7 (July 1975), 70. 


28 



recorder with guitar solos, and then begin the real creative process of blending, mixing, and 
deleting), Phil Spector (who “understood better than anybody that a recording could do things 
that could never actually happen”), the Beach Boys, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Byrds 
(whose experimental and psychedelic approach Eno appreciated), the Beatles (whose 1966 
album Revolver, recorded on four-track with George Martin at the controls, Eno described as 
“my favourite Beatles album”), and Simon and Garfunkel (“The song ‘Bridge Over Troubled 
Water’ [1970] is perfection in its way. I’m told it took 370 hours of studio time to record - 
that’s longer than most albums, but it is such an incredible tour de force. It’s the World Trade 
Center of production in a way, you might not think that the building is necessarily beautiful, 
but you cannot help but be impressed by it.”). 16 

Although I have argued that Eno’s early solo albums belong in the genre of progressive rock, 
he has been constantly at pains to dissociate himself from some of the most popular manifes- 
tations of that genre. In 1978 he took the following broad view of recent rock history and his 
place in it: 

At the end of the 1960s, there were two mainstreams, one that came 
from the Beatles, with big sales, and one from the Velvet Underground 
and the early Who and Bo Diddley - much rougher, more urban and 
less Gothic. I always felt I was part of that second thing. Technology is 
a separate issue. It just happened that the fantasy bands got involved in 
technology because they could afford it, rather than because it was a 
particular predilection of theirs or particularly belonged with that kind 
of music. 17 

By the “Gothic fantasy bands” Eno doubtless means groups like Yes and Emerson, Lake & 
Palmer, who managed to turn an unlikely blend of elements - an instrumental virtuosity pre- 
viously unheard of in rock, a grandeur of conception rivalling that of Mahler and Strauss, a 
widely expanded harmonic and rhythmic technique (with roots in both nineteenth-century art 
music and jazz), and an infatuation with the possibilities of synthesizers and twenty-four-track 
recording technology - into one of the most commercially successful musical blends of the 
era. Eno has attacked this kind of music on a number of occasions, calling it “grotesque” in 
one instance, 18 making a snide remark about “the well-known and gladly departed orchestral 
rock tradition” in another, 19 decrying “really dumb bands who’ve tried to make a kind of aca- 
demic form out of rock music” in yet another. 20 What has apparently bothered Eno most about 
progressive rock of this type is not its seeming to want to claim a vicarious and inappropriate 


16 Brown, “On Record: Brian Eno,” 94. Paul Simon has said that “Bridge Over Troubled Wa- 
ter” “took somewhere around ten days to two weeks to record, and then it had to be mixed.” 
Jon Landau, “Paul Simon: ‘Like a Pitcher of Water,’" in Ben Fong-Torres, ed., The Rolling 
Stone Interviews, Vol. 2 (New York: Warner, 1973), 398. 

17 John Rockwell, “The Odyssey of Two British Rockers,” New York Times, 23 July 1978, 
11:16. In the same article, Robert Fripp is quoted expressing much the same distaste as Eno 
with regard to early- and mid-1970s British progressive rock: “I don’t wish to listen to the 
philosophical meanderings of some English halfwit who is circumnavigating some inessential 
point of experience in his life.” 

18 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 68. 

19 Eno, “Pro Session - Part I,” 57. 

20 Moore, “Eno = MC Squared,” 67. 


29 



respectability for itself by borrowing so blatantly from late-Romantic ideals - the aspect that 
has troubled most critics, rather, Eno, ever the Apollonian technophile, seems genuinely of- 
fended by its sheer technological excess, its lack of restraint. In 1983 he recalled 

the early 70s, when recording had just gone from four to 24 tracks in a 

very few years. Rock became grandiose and muddy, like a bad cook 

who puts every spice and herb on the shelf in the soup ... I started 

2 1 

thinking in reductive terms. 

Infatuation with technological means is something Eno has no use for, in his view, it tends to 
get in the way of the functioning of the most important link in the musical chain - the human 
ear. In the early 1980s, a visit to Stanford University, home of one of the world’s most sophis- 
ticated computer music studios, proved disillusioning: “Techies don’t listen to what they’re 
doing ... I’m no techie.” 22 

The last movement within rock to capture Eno’s sustained interest was the new wave music of 
the late 1970s, he moved to New York in 1978 in order to be in the thick of the latest devel- 
opments. The rawness of the British punk sound may have intrigued him for a while, but he 
was never attracted to its overtly political, anarchistic message, the New York new wavers, on 
the other hand, seemed to be experimenting with music and with ideas: 

The New York bands proceed from a “what would happen if’ orienta- 
tion. The English punk thing is a “feel” situation: “This is our identity, 
and the music emanates from that.” I’ve always been of the fonner 
persuasion. A lot of the British bands now are based on personalities - 
Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe. With the Velvet Under- 
ground and the new New York bands, you’re conscious of personality, 
but it’s almost incidental. 

But there’s a difference between me and the New York bands. They 
carry the experiment to the extreme, I carry it to the point where it 
stops sounding interesting, and then pull back a little bit. What they do 
is a rarefied kind of research, it generates a vocabulary that people like 
me can use. These New York bands are like fence-posts, the real edges 

23 

of a territory, and one can maneuver within it. 

The New York scene of the late 1970s impressed Eno as a kind of paradigm of the develop- 
mental process in rock: 

What’s going on in New York now is one of those seminal situations where there are really a 
lot of ideas around, and somebody is going to synthesize some of them soon ... That’s always 
been the way of rock music as far as I can see, this forming of eclectic little groups of disci- 
plines. 24 


21 Michael Zwerin, “Brian Eno: Music Existing in Space,” International Herald Tribune, 14 
Sept. 1983, 7. 

22 Zwerin, “Eno: Music Existing in Space,” 7. 

23 Rockwell, “Odyssey of Two British Rockers,” 16. 

24 Moore, “Eno = MC Squared,” 68. 


30 



Eno felt he had indirectly contributed to this ferment by having steadily maintained, over the 
previous several years, 

that it was possible to go in there [the recording studio] with a child- 
like enthusiasm and dabble about and come out with something that 
was interesting, and my own work, as far as I was concerned, was a 
proof of that ... And I think that this was one of the many currents that 
flowed into what became new wave, because as you know, many of 
the new wave groups are in much the same musical position as me. 

They have enthusiasm and good ideas, but no or little technical skill, 
and they don’t worry about that. You design your music to accomodate 
the level of skill you have available to you, rather than sitting at home 
and thinking, “boy, I wish I could play like Eric Clapton,” which is 

25 

what people were doing when I started making records. ~ 

Finally, new wave music symbolized for Eno a healthy turning away from the overblown, 
grandiose, crowded synthetic perfection of 24-track rock, as many writers have pointed out, 
the means of making music once more appeared to be in the hands of the people, rather than 
limited to those few who could afford the ever-increasing costs of studio time, professional 
producers, and the latest electronic equipment: 

One of the great liberating things about new wave was the idea that 
people could once again release demos and things done in garages and 
very crude acoustic situations, and one didn’t regard these things as 
“Oh, it’s a great song ... what a pity it’s so badly recorded”, one said, 

“Isn’t that an interesting recording quality. ” 

It is possible to view the history of black music and white music since the mid-1950s as sepa- 
rate, and indeed the surgical categorization of the charts in Billboard and similar trade maga- 
zines encourages one to do so. But in fact, at least since the middle of the nineteenth century, 
interaction between white and black popular music styles has been a chief feature of both of 
their developments. And particularly since the rise of the phonograph and the radio, the audi- 
ences for music made by blacks and whites have overlapped to a considerable degree. Since 
the rise of rock’n’roll, many if not most of the greatest white stars have paid homage to the 
black musicians whose records showed them new musical possibilities. John Lennon, Bob 
Dylan, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, and Paul Simon are but a few of the white rock musicians 
who have cited black musicians at least as frequently as whites when called upon to discuss 
their influences. Although much of Eno’s music appears on the surface to owe little directly to 
black sources, he has frequently expressed admiration for a range of black popular music. Part 
of the attraction of Afro-American music for him lies in what he has called its sensual proper- 
ties, but characteristically, another large part of his admiration lies in the production values 
that have informed specific records by specific musicians - the way they have approached the 
studio situation. For instance, in a 1980 interview he pointed to developments in studio tech- 
nique in the mid-1960s: 


25 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 8. 

26 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 9. 


31 



The rhythm instruments started becoming very important. Instead of 
being simply rhythm, that is to say simply things that gave you a com- 
forting thud in the lower part of the sound spectrum, they started hav- 
ing real vocal lines and singing parts, and a kind of compression 
started taking place where the voice wasn’t the dominant, melodic in- 
strument, necessarily. [In the Supremes’ “Reflections”], you hear a 
number of interesting things going on: first of all the electronics are 
being used in an interesting way, secondly, the acoustic space is quite 
fictitional, thirdly, the bass guitar has quite as much to say as Diana 

77 

Ross’s voice, I think." 

In addition to Tamla/Motown musicians, Eno cited Sly Stone as “one of the formative influ- 
ences of the 70s, in how he reshuffled all the instmment roles ... he started using rhythm in- 
struments in a vocal fashion and conversely often using the voices in a rhythmic fashion.” 28 
As an example, Eno offered the song “Everyday People” (1969). In Sly’s “Thank You” (1970) 
Eno pointed out that the bass is active to the point of being “the most interesting melody on 
the track.” 29 Such examples may be historically naive to the extent that they underestimate the 
importance, in much Afro-American music since the nineteenth century, of an active bass line, 
a heterogeneous sound-ideal, and a spreading of rhythmic duties over the whole ensemble. 
But in the present context, the point is Eno’s fascination with a different approach to texture 
and studio technique making itself felt in the world of mainstream popular music. 

In black music as in white music, Eno finds overindulgence in electronics irritating. “Stevie 
Wonder’s synthesizers are interesting, but in general the machines have been very badly used 
for decorative effects or as gravy to glue a track together. It’s very disappointing.” 30 

One of the musicians, black or white, for whom Eno has shown the highest degree of respect, 
is a man whose music has always been difficult to pigeonhole into this or that tradition - Jimi 
Hendrix. In 1975 Eno called Hendrix “probably still the greatest guitar player of all time,” but 
not on the basis of instrumental virtuosity: “He was the first guitar player to realize that the 
guitar was more than a piece of wood that hung around his neck, and he really understood that 
there was a relationship between the room acoustics and the amplifier he was using, the whole 
situation.” 31 

This quotation is from a radio interview. Eno proceeded to play a recording of Hendrix’s solo 
electric guitar version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the soundtrack to Woodstock. 
When the recording was over, Eno was temporarily stunned into speechlessness by the music. 
When he had sufficiently recovered, he said, “I think that’s one of the most extraordinary his- 
torical documents, that piece. The first time 1 heard it, it just made me cry.” 32 


27 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 22. 

28 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 23. 

29 Dancis, “Studio Plays Big Role, Says Eno,” 29. 

30 Stephen Demorest, “The Discreet Charm of Brian Eno: An English Pop Theorist Seeks to 
Redefine Music,” Horizon 21 (June 1978), 82. 

31 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 21. 

32 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 22. 


32 



Eno admired Hendrix’s choosing to limit himself to a restricted range of timbral possibilites. 
Unlike the many rock musicians, particularly in the age of synthesizers, who waste time and 
energy chasing after novel sounds, Hendrix “always worked with a Stratocaster and a particu- 
lar type of amp,” 33 searching for a deep understanding of this setup. 

Frequently in the studios, you see synthesizer players fiddling for six 
hours getting this sound and then that sound and so on, in a kind of 
almost random search. What’s clear, if you’re watching this process, is 
that what they’re in search of is not a new sound but a new idea. The 
synthesizer gives them the illusion that they’ll find it somewhere in 
there. Really, it would make more sense to sit down and say, “Hey, 
look, what am I doing? Why don’t I just think for a minute, and then 
go and do it?” Rather than this scramble through the electrons. 34 

In this context, Eno cited Glenn Gould once again: “He has been working with the same piano 
for years and years. Clearly he understands that piano in a way that no synthesizer player alive 
understands his instrument.” 35 In addition to Hendrix’s guitar playing and approach to the 
electronic situation, Eno found his lyrics exemplary: citing the “strange and mysterious lyrics” 
of “Little Wing” from Axis: Bold As Love (1968), he said: 

All the best lyrics I can think of, if you question me about them, I 
don’t know what they’re saying, I really don’t, but somehow they’re 
very evocative ... [Hendrix] has given you the impression that he’s say- 
ing something, and it’s being said with an intensity of some kind, and 

36 

that’s the important thing. 

In 1978 Eno discussed his changing views on black “funk” music in these terms: 

I used to have this little badge which said, “Join the Fight Against 
Funk.” Because in 1974 or ‘75, 1 absolutely despised funky music. I 
just thought it was everything I didn’t want in music. And suddenly, I 
found myself taking quite the contrary position ... I suddenly found 
that, partly because of what [David Bowie] was doing and one or two 
other things - mostly Parliament and Bootsy and those people - I sud- 
denly realized that if you took this a little bit further it became some- 
thing very extreme and interesting. And Bowie did, it was like “grand 
fu nk .” It was so exaggerated that it became a new form, it wasn’t just 

■jn 

schlocky gloss. 

In another interview from the same year, Eno extended this view of funk: 

Donna Summer was actually the beginning of this idea for me ... Be- 
cause to me a lot of the most interesting things in electronic music 


33 Jim Aikin, “Brian Eno,” Keyboard 7 (July 1981), 45. 

34 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 45. 

35 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 45. 

36 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 64. 

37 Kurt Loder, “Eno,” Synapse (Jan./Feb. 1979), 26. 


33 



have come from that area - they haven’t come from people who are 
dealing with electronics exclusively. They’ve come from people 
searching for gimmicks, something as banal as “What kind of sound 
can we get now that nobody’s got before?” What I like about the Par- 
liament/Funkadelic people is that they really go to extremes. There’s 

38 

nothing moderate about what they do. 

And here Eno reiterates his dream of bringing together the “strange, rigid” electronic music of 
Kraftwerk with the “weird physical feeling” of Parliament: “Put those two together and say, 
‘Make a record.”’ 39 In addition to Eno’s own My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which was then 
in the planning stages with David Byrne, a large quantity of popular music in the 1980s has 
turned out to parallel Eno’s dream rather closely: with Prince and Michael Jackson leading the 
way on the black side and Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel on the white, synthesizers have come 
to dominate the sound of popular music, and many musicians have learned how to take the 
hard, metallic edge off electronic sounds, or to use them creatively at cross-purposes with 
their mechanical nature. 

Although Eno was momentarily enthusiastic about funk and disco, at least with regard to their 
possibilities when taken to creative extremes, by 1983 he had had enough of “the formula 
disco style where it has to have this or that and it has to have the girls doing a refrain. You 
hear so much of this junk coming out all the time.” 40 

Like many other white musicians of the late 1970s (most notably the Police, who forged a 
distinctive popular style based on the angular vocal melodies and off-beat bass lines of reg- 
gae), Eno was fascinated with the sounds of Jamaican reggae music. Once again, it was the 
procedure of how the music was put together, as much as the sound itself, that interested Eno: 

The contemporary studio composer is like a painter who puts things 
on, puts things together, tries things out, and erases them. The condi- 
tion of the reggae composer is like that of the sculptor, I think. Five or 
six musicians play, they’re well isolated from one another. Then the 
thing they played, which you can regard as a kind of cube of music, is 
hacked away at - things are taken out, for long periods. 

A guitar will appear for two strums, then never appear again, the bass 
will suddenly drop out, and an interesting space is created. Reggae 
composers have created a sense of dimension in the music, by very 
clever, unconventional use of echo, by leaving out instruments, and by 
the very open rhythmic structure of the music . 41 

The “sculptural” approach has clearly influenced Eno’s own way of composing. It is charac- 
teristic that he has shown no interest in reggae’s political implications, neither in terms of the 
indigenous philosophy or life-style of Rastafarianism nor in terms of Western white musicians 


38 Glenn O’Brien, “Eno at the Edge of Rock,” Andy Warhol’s Interview 8 (June 1978), 32. 

39 O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 32. 

40 Bill Milkowski, “Brian Eno: Excursions in the Electronic Environment,” Down Beat 50 
(June 1983), 57. 

41 Brian Eno, “Pro Session - Part II,” 53. 


34 



and audiences finding some sort of meaning in expressing solidarity with the Third World 
through the reggae beat - Bob Dylan’s use of a Jamaican rhythm section on his 1983 album 
Infidels being a typical case in point. Eno’s interest is in the sound of the music, in the engi- 
neering point of view, in what the music can teach him as a composer, if a ‘‘‘political” meaning 
of music is important to Eno at all, it is restricted to the local level of interaction between mu- 
sicians and between musicians and audience. 

In addition to reggae, other non-mainstream black music has consistently commanded Eno’s 
favorable attention. In 1977 he remarked that the highlife music of Fela Ransome-Kuti and 
Africa 70 was “the only music that makes me want to dance.” 42 The experience of working 
with the Ghanaian group Edikanfo was simultaneously inspiring and depressing: “All the in- 
teractions between players and all the kind of funny things going on with the rhythm ... When 
I started listening to the stuff that we did with the Talking Heads, it was just so wooden by 
comparison. I couldn’t get very excited by it anymore. I could still get excited about it in other 
terms, but not in rhythmic terms any more. It seemed to be really naive.” 43 

We have seen that Eno is familiar with Western art music at least to the point of criticizing the 
academic serialist tradition of the twentieth century and the pyramidical organization of the 
classical orchestra. Such sweeping judgements aside, he has rarely talked about actual pieces 
from the classical repertoire. Curious exceptions to this mle are various slow movements from 
Haydn string quartets and Mozart concertos. Eno explained in 1986 what he found attractive 
about such music: it “didn’t produce emotional surprises, [but rather] presented an emotional 
situation that held steady for quite a long time. In other words, a ‘steady-state’ kind of mu- 

■ 44 

SIC. 

An interviewer recently asked Eno to define his relationship to the English classical tradition 
of composers like Elgar, Delius, and Vaughn Williams. He expressed guarded admiration for 
it, but quickly moved on to his own agenda: 

They didn’t interest me for a long time, but recently I found that I ac- 
tually like them ... As I grew up I saw a lot of people taking very ex- 
treme positions, like “Let’s make a piece of music eighteen hours 
long,” or “Let’s make a piece of music that has only one note and lasts 
for six years,” - that kind of thing. It’s all interesting, and it’s nice to 
know that these possibilities exist, but I don’t want to listen to them or 
at least not more than once. I found that the artists I liked were aware 
of these possibilities, but had taken up less extreme stances - usually 
one which, given the tastes of the contemporary art world, made them 
look as if they were playing it safe . 45 

Whether in recent English classical music or Haydn slow movements, it is evidently the sen- 
suous quality that appeals to Eno, as well as the sense of restraint and balance, the drawing 
back from an extreme position, whether intellectual or emotional. It is on somewhat similar 
grounds that Eno has criticized recent experimental music. Tom Johnson, reporting in the Vil- 


42 Frank Rose, “Four Conversations with Brian Eno,” Village Voice 22 (28 Mar. 1977), 67. 

43 Milkowski, “Brian Eno: Excursions,” 57. 

44 Hutchinson, “Eno: Place #13,” n.p. 

45 Hutchinson, “Eno: Place #13,” n.p. 


35 



lage Voice on Eno’s lecture delivered at the “New Music, New York'’ festival hosted by the 
Kitchen in 1979, wrote: “He told us that experimental music involves too much intellect and 
not enough sensuality, that creating charisma is a useful and even necessary thing, and that 
experimental composers should think more about marketing their work. 46 

For all his own use of technology’s array of music-making and recording equipment, Eno has 
consistently been critical of electronic music without a heart. This brings us back to rock, 
which Eno was still touting in 1980 for its conceptual attractiveness: 

Rock music has always been teetering on two borderlines. One is the 
borderline of a very advanced technology, and the other is a borderline 
of people using it who don’t have a clue of what to do with it ... The 
big problem with computer music is that everyone knows how to use it 
too well. It just doesn’t have the idiosyncratic, human element. You 
can’t imagine anything in computer music like [Elvis Presley’s 
“Heartbreak Hotel”]. No one would dare do it . 47 

Likewise, Eno has professed to be “totally bored” with the electronic realizations of classical 
scores, such as Wendy Carlos’ ground-breaking album Switched-on Bach of 1968. 48 

If, as Eno has said, the entire world of music is available to the modern composer, what are 
some of the types of music Eno has heard from beyond the confines of the Western popular, 
classical, and avant-garde traditions? In 1986, he recounted how hearing a gospel record on 
the radio in the Bahamas during a Talking Heads recording session “changed my life.” His 
subsequent search for the record led him into gospel shops and I found about 200 other great 
gospel albums, and 

finally the one I was looking for, but in my search I had discovered 
what an incredible musical fonn gospel is. You have this very simple 
formula that’s been ornamented in such original and moving ways. It’s 
so alive, and keeps changing - new styles come up, while the tradi- 
tional style still goes on. I’m quite religious about listening to it, actu- 
ally, in the sense that on Sunday I put on gospel records. It’s strange - 
sometimes I don’t even know that it’s Sunday and I’ll be working and 
I’ll put on Mahalia Jackson, start singing to it, and then I realize, “Oh 
yes, it’s Sunday .” 49 

Eno is on record as admiring unspecified “folk music.” Almost predictably, one of the things 
he likes about folk singing is its sense of casual harmonic randomness. Created by untrained 
musicians, the music often contains 

strange and lovely hannonies that are actually inadvertent. They result 
from the fact that somebody can’t sing in the register that the main 


46 Tom Johnson, “New Music, New York, New Institution,” Village Voice 24 (2 July 1979), 
89. 

47 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 19. 

48 Geoff Brown, “Eno’s Where It’s At ” Melody Maker 48 (10 Nov. 1973),41. 

49 Korner, “Aurora Musicalis,” 78. 


36 



voices are in, so they just find a pitch at some peculiar interval above 
or below and stay in parallel hannony from there onwards. So in folk 
music you often have this sense of a limitation being turned into a 
strength . 50 

It is easy to imagine the attraction that certain kinds of Japanese music have for Eno. As he 
explains, 

When I sit at home listening to things on a quiet evening I find I really 
am capable of listening to uneventful things with great pleasure. In fact 
almost the degree to which they are uneventful is interesting to me. 

For instance I’m very keen on shakuhachi music and koto music, 
partly because it has those very long spaces and very restrictive pitch 
palate ... 5I 

Since the late 1970s, Eno has listened to and drawn lessons from Arabic popular music. Dur- 
ing a trip to Ibiza, an island off the coast of eastern Spain, he tuned into North African radio 
stations and was inspired by the vocal styles he heard: 

I was prepared to give up completely because I think they have the 
edge on us in singing. Not only the Arabs, but the Thai, Japa- 
nese, Africans, and so on ... What’s really interesting about these pieces 
is the way they quite effortlessly accomodate electric organs and in- 
struments we tend to associate with rock music, just build them in with 

52 

no problem whatsoever. 

In the radio interview from which this quotation is taken, Eno played a tape he had made off 
the air in Ibiza, and confessed that he had no idea what the singer was singing about. In the 
interview with John Cage, he said that he usually listens to gospel and Arabic music while 
he’s “cleaning the house.” 53 As is the case in so many realms of experience that Eno has dwelt 
in, one detects a mixture of child-like enthusiasm and naivete, of deep reflection and a certain 
contextless-ness. Like any other thoughtful person of the late twentieth century, he is con- 
fronted with an explosion of information pressing in at every turn, and faced with the di- 
lemma of forging some kind of meaning out of it all. The contemporary musicologist Joseph 
Kerman has succinctly posed the dilemma as it affects the direction and goals of his own dis- 
cipline: “more and more facts, and less and less confidence in interpreting them.” 54 In his 
creative work, Eno has drawn on a very broad range of musical “facts,” and has come up with 
some extremely provocative and beautiful results. 

In this survey of music that has attracted, repulsed, and influenced Eno, doubtless much has 
been left out. An alert journalist, during a visit to Eno’s New York loft in 1981, noted “a tidy 
stack of records: Les Liturgies de VOrient, Music of Bulgaria, Actual Voices of Ex-Slaves, 


50 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 57. 

51 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 14. 

52 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 24. 

53 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 69. 

54 Joseph Kerman, Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology (Cambridge, Mass.: Har- 
vard University Press, 1985), 54. 


37 



Parliament’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein ...” 55 Like any other modern person, Eno has, 
inevitably if inadvertently, heard countless pieces of music on the radio, on television, in mov- 
ies, and over invisible loudspeakers in public places - pieces whose titles, authorship, and 
strains have faded from his memory, if indeed they ever lodged there to begin with. Given the 
ubiquity of music of so many different types, the whole matter of “influences” is not so clear- 
cut as it once seemed. 


55 Kurt Loder, “Squawking Heads: Byrne and Eno in the Bush of Ghosts,” Rolling Stone 338 
(5 March 1981), 46. 


38 



CHAPTER FOUR: 

THE EAR OF THE NON-MUSICIAN 


Art School and Experimental Works, Process and Product 

As many have observed, there was something about the atmosphere in British art schools of 
the late 1950s and 1960s that seemed to breed rock musicians. Among the leading rockers to 
emerge from art school backgrounds were John Lennon of the Beatles, Pete Townshend of the 
Who, Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music, and Ray Davies of the Kinks. Eno’s experiences at Ipswich 
Art School between 1964 and 1966 were to decisively alter his views of art and the nature of 
creativity. As he has described it, 

I guess that we were all united by one idea - that art school was the 
place where you would be able to express yourself, where the passion- 
ate and intuitive nature that you felt raged inside you would be set free 
and turned into art. As it happened, we couldn’t have been more 
wrong. The first term at Ipswich was devoted entirely to getting rid of 
these silly ideas about the nobility of the artist by a process of com- 
plete and relentless disorientation. We were set projects that we could 
not understand, criticized on bases that we did not even recognize as 
relevant. 1 

The emphasis in Eno’s art school education was on “process over product”, it was the height 
of the 1960s avant-garde philosophy that the residue left by an artistic gesture was less impor- 
tant than the conceptual nature of the gesture itself. Under this set of ideological conditions, 
Eno thrived, producing a variety of student works completely consonant with the artistic cli- 
mate of the times. With Ipswich’s taping facilities, he made his first musical piece by re- 
cording the sounds of striking a large metal lampshade and then altering the speed of the tape 
- a process which resulted in pronounced acoustical beats. He made “sound sculptures,” such 
as a vertical cylinder with a big loudspeaker mounted on top, with various objects placed on 
the speaker which moved themselves into different arrangements according to the nature of 
the vibrations shaking the membrane. Eno hung loudspeakers from trees in a park and piped 
different music into each one. He made a painting and placed it at the bottom of a river. 
Rarely did he work on making pictures for their own sake, he found himself too impatient to 
finish a canvas, and more interested in designing “scores” “to tell myself how to construct a 
painting. I looked for designs that would contravene ordinary decisions about whether some- 
thing looked nice or didn’t look nice.” 2 Paintings became performance pieces. In one experi- 
ment, 

I did a whole series ... that involved more than one person doing the 
painting. In one, I gave four people identical instructions of the type, 


1 Eno, Trent Polytechnic lecture. More Dark Than Shark, 40. 

2 Michael Zwerin, “Brian Eno: Music Existing in Space,” International Herald Tribune ,” 14 
Sept. 1983, 7. 


39 



“Make the canvas such-and-such square, make a mark 14 inches from 
the top right-hand comer, and then measure a line down at 83 degrees 
and find a point here and so on. Each instruction built on the one 
before. If there was any error, it would be compounded throughout the 
picture. I ended up with four canvases that were clearly related but dif- 
ferent from each other, and they were stuck together to make one pic- 
ture. 3 

The line between music and other forms of art was obscured in many such experiments, yet 
Eno became more and more attracted to music itself, since here was an art-form that had al- 
ways been a “performance art’’ involving real-time processes. He found it increasingly diffi- 
cult to finish his paintings, which tended to look “as if I’d got bored half-way through, which 
in fact is what had happened.” Music, on the other hand, offered an activity that was more 
immediate, that involved instantaneous feedback between process and product, Eno also felt 
that music was “an activity that has a more direct emotional appeal.” 4 What ultimately in- 
trigued him most in the musical realm, however, was not its performance aspect, but the pos- 
sibilities of the tape recorder, which seemed to make composing directly analogous to paint- 
ing: “I realized you could mess with time - storing it and then distorting it any way you 
wanted - and this made music into a plastic art. It instantly struck me as more interesting than 
painting.” 5 

Thus the processes involved in making art- works exerted a peculiar fascination over Eno: he 
saw them as valuable not only in terms of their ability to stimulate composition and to lend 
insight into craft, but as interesting ideas in themselves. His enthusiasm for talking about 
process has impressed most of the writers who have interviewed him, and indeed it is his 
acute awareness of the varieties of the creative process, and his ability and willingness to ar- 
ticulate his experiences with them, that set him apart from a host of progressive rock musi- 
cians of the early 1970s. (An occasional writer found Eno’s preoccupation with process irritat- 
ing: Lester Bangs declared Eno’s much-discussed methods “boring as shit to talk about at 
much length and probably unnecessarily complicated, but they’ve given us some of the most 
amazing albums of the decade.”) 6 

However, by 1981, if not earlier, disillusioned by the proliferation of self-indulgent concep- 
tual debris being passed off as art, and with a much clearer - and perhaps more traditional - 
conception of what is involved in making a piece of music, Eno had come round to the posi- 
tion that there were definite limits to the interest that could be sustained by an artist’s dwelling 
on process as a sort of artistic product in its own right: 

I was taught in art school that process is everything, which is another 
way of saying that having an idea is enough. Since I’m basically lazy, I 
liked that idea, but I no longer think it’s true. The structure or process 
that I used in Discreet Music is almost identical to the structure of 


3 Arthur Lubow, “Brian Eno: At the Outer Limits of Popular Music, the Ex-glitter Rocker 
Experiments with a Quiet new Sound,” People Weekly (1 1 Oct. 1982), 94. 

4 Geoff Brown, “Eno’s Where It’s At,” Melody Maker 48 (10 Nov. 1973), 41. 

5 Demorest, “Discreet Charm of Eno,” 83. 

6 Lester Bangs, “Eno Sings with the Fishes,” Village Voice 23 (3 Apr. 1978), 49. 


40 



Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain, for example, but the sound of the two pieces 
is very different . 7 

The process is supposed to be interesting in itself. I don’t go for that. I 
think if something doesn’t jolt your senses, forget it. It’s got to be se- 
ductive . 8 

Eno has criticized such things as Nam June Paik’s multi-screen video installations and imita- 
tions of William Burroughs’s “cut-up” technique, in which random bits of text are selected 
and pasted together: “Sure, ‘cut-ups’ can be fascinating, but it does matter what the input is.” 
The idea “that as long as the process was interesting it didn’t really matter what went into it” 
was 

part of the John Cage legacy. The failure of that inheritance is evident 
when you hear some pieces of systems music that you like, and others 
that don’t hold your attention at all. You come to the inevitable conclu- 
sion that the difference doesn’t lie in the differing degrees of elegance 
in the systems, but in their content . 9 

On Listening 

Although Eno has never had any formal ear-training, he is evidently listening all the time - 
and not just to the sounds of what we normally call “music.” Taking a cue from Cage, Eno 
uses his ears to scan the environment, putting himself into a musical-listening mode even in 
the absence of music. He has frequently criticized musicians, particularly those seduced by 
the glamour of high-tech electronic instruments, for being unable or unwilling to listen to 
what they are doing. In his 1979 lecture “The Studio As Compositional Tool” he remarked 
that “almost any arbitrary collision of events listened to enough times comes to seem very 
meaningful,” adding, “There’s an interesting and useful bit of information for a composer, I 
can tell you.” 10 These remarks were in the context of his discussion of improvised jazz, but 
lead far beyond the conventionally “musical” into the realm of environmental sounds. For 
Eno, music is not necessarily restricted to pieces composed out of relationships between 
pitches and rhythms: 

Classical music works around a body of “refined” sounds - sounds 
that are separate from the sounds of the world, pure and musical. There 
is a sharp distinction between “music” and “noise,” just as there is a 
distinction between the musician and the audience. I like blurring 


7 Robert Palmer, “Brian Eno, New Guru of Rock, Going Solo,” New York Times, 13 March 
1981,111:17. 

8 Steven Grant, “Brian Eno Against Interpretation,” Trouser Press 9 (Aug. 1982), 29. 

9 Hutchinson, “Eno: Place #13,” n.p. 

10 Brian Eno, “Pro Session: The Studio as Compositional Tool - Part I,” lecture delivered at 
New Music New York, the first New Music America Festival, sponsored in 1979 by the 
Kitchen, excerpted by Howard Mandel, Down Beat 50 (July 1983), 56. “Part II” of this lecture 
appeared in the next issue of Down Beat (Aug. 1983). 


41 



those distinctions - I like to work with all the complex sounds on the 
way out to the horizon, to pure noise, like the hum of London. If you 
sit in Hyde Park just far enough away from the traffic so that you don’t 
perceive any of its specific details, you just hear the average of the 
whole thing. And it’s such a beautiful sound. For me that’s as good as 
going to a concert hall at night. 1 1 

Eno’s ideas about listening to the environment as music are shared by modern composer 
Pauline Oliveros, who has used such concepts as the basis of actual pieces. The instructions 
for the fifth of her Sonic Meditations (1974) read as follows: “Take a walk at night. Walk so 
silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.” Sonic Meditations XVII is somewhat simi- 
lar: “1. Enhance or paraphrase the auditory environment so perfectly that a listener cannot 
distinguish between the real sounds of the environment and the performed sounds. 2. Become 
performers by not performing.” 12 

The concept of “the environment as art” reached its height in the 1960s and early 1970s. Andy 
Warhol’s putting Brillo boxes in a museum was perhaps the most celebrated example of an 
artist encouraging his audience to take a closer look at the sensuous qualities of everyday ob- 
jects, though the painter Robert Rauschenberg had done something similar much earlier with 
his “white paintings” - monochromatic canvases that invited the viewer to become involved 
in the play of light and shadow on the “empty” surface. The most direct musical analog to 
these experiments is John Cage’s “silent” piece, 4 '33 ”, in which a performer takes the stage 
and does nothing for the duration: the audience is given the opportunity to experience the am- 
bient sounds of the hall as music. Eno clearly took the lessons of such experiments to heart: 
he is a person who has spent a great deal of time simply listening, and it shows in much of his 
ambient music, which is a music of understated inner strength and few outwardly vigorous 
events. 

Much of Eno’s music is constructed on a vertical basis: to a great extent, it is music concerned 
with the sheer color of sound, rather than with the linear (horizontal) growth of melodies. 
Each moment in Eno’s music presents certain tone colors or timbres, and the interest lies in 
the relationships between these colors - rather than in the evolution of thematic material, 
which has been the norm in in most Western art music for centuries. What Eno hears sitting in 
Hyde Park is a composite, geographical, ambient music, with no need of horizontal teleology 
or the logic of linear development. Such vertically-oriented musical experiences can be had 
using conventional instillments, also. In 1985 he cited the grand piano, the tambura (the four- 
stringed Indian drone instalment) and the electric bass guitar as his favorite instruments. It 
was the piano which he held in highest esteem: 

I like it because of the complexity of its sound. If you hold the sustain 
pedal down, strike a note and just listen ... that’s one of my favourite 
musical experiences. I often sit at the piano for an hour or two, and just 
go “bung!” and listen to the note dying. Each piano does it in a differ- 
ent way. You find all these exotic hannonies drifting in and drifting out 


11 Anthony Korner, “Aurora Musicalis,” Artforum 24:10 (Summer 1986), 77. 

12 Quoted in David H. Cope, New Directions in Music, 2nd ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. 
Brown, 1980), 211. 


42 



again, and one that will appear and disappear many times. There’ll be 
fast-moving ones and slow-moving ones. That’s spellbinding, for me. 13 

Eno discussed what he hears in piano harmonics in terms of equal temperament (“There are a 
lot of books about this. It’s an interesting subject.”), 14 explaining that the slight out-of- 
tuneness of piano fifths, thirds, and so on, make for an extraordinary richness in the vertical 
dimension. He went on to say: 

I used to think: Piano? Compromise? Pathetic instrument, can’t be 
tuned. But now I think what makes a piano so interesting is that it’s 
generating so much complex information ... Because of the problem of 
Equal Temperament and Just Intonation, because you can’t tune a pi- 
ano perfectly, you never have such a simple interval [as a pure fifth, 

2:3]. There are much more complex numbers than these involved with 
a piano, and that means you get some much more exotic hannonics, 
which really are very transitory. It’s the most extraordinary instrument 
for that. 15 

What we are dealing with here are different modes of perception and receptivity. Expectations 
- often unconscious - have a great deal to do with how we listen. Beethoven’s fifth Sym- 
phony is, aside from all of its programmatic “Fate” connotations, a piece of music about the 
unfolding of a brief melodic fragment in time: the first four notes, G-G-G-Eb, with their char- 
acteristic rhythm, appear in all four movements of the Symphony in different guises. The 
sound of a single piano tone struck with the sustain pedal down, or the sounds of the hum of 
London in Hyde Park, on the other hand, are, or have the potential to become, purely timbral, 
though unexpectedly complex musical experiences. One cannot approach Beethoven’s Fifth in 
the Hyde Park mode of perception, or vice versa. One cannot approach a Bach fugue from the 
“frog’s eye” perspective, nor can one approach Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain from the Western, 
linear-ear perspective. There is an analogy in the visual arts, in the growing field of video art- 
works. If in his music Eno is interested in cultivating a radically different approach to the lis- 
tening process, in his video works a similar concern comes into play with regard to the video 
screen itself. In 1986 he criticized some of the videos shown at “The Luminous Image” exhi- 
bition at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam in precisely these terms: “Most of the pieces had a narra- 
tive structure, so you ended up looking at the screen, and looking at a screen is a different 
experience from looking at an object. You look into a screen, and by doing so you accept all 
its visual conventions.” 16 

One of the things Eno is after, then, is using the senses - vision and hearing - in new ways, 
ways that have little to do with traditional artistic conventions. When he speaks as a critic, he 
is especially preoccupied with innovative uses of conventions, with the vertical color of 
sound, and with engineering aspects of the work of art. 


13 Alan Jensen, “The Sound of Silence: A Thursday Afternoon with Brian Eno,” Electronics 
& Music Maker (Dec. 1985), 23. 

14 Jensen, “Sound of Silence,” 24. 

15 Jensen, “Sound of Silence,” 24. 

16 John Hutchinson, “Brian Eno: Place #13,” color brochure (Dublin: Douglas Hyde Gallery, 
1986), n.p. 


43 



Craft and the Non-Musician 


If Eno rejects much in the way of traditional artistic conventions, he also rejects many con- 
ventional ideas about musicianship. A full understanding of his often-quoted assertion that he 
is “not a musician” is crucial to a grasp of his music. Before discussing what this assertion 
really means, we must allow that Eno is in fact a talented and versatile, if intuitive and mar- 
ginally skilled, multi-instrumentalist: he has played synthesizers, piano, organ, other elec- 
tronic keyboards, electric guitar, electric bass guitar (which he called in 1985 “the only in- 
stillment 1 have the remotest hope of learning to play before the end of my life - though I 
don’t know what I’ll do with it once I’ve learned”), 17 and assorted traditional and “found” 
percussion instruments such as ashtrays and flexible plastic pipes. His technical capabilities 
on all of these instillments are limited: on keyboards, he stays within a small range of keys 
around C major, in his guitar playing, he sticks with a limited number of bar chords and sim- 
ple, slow melodic lines, his bass work tends to consist of single long sustained notes. In his 
singing, he typically uses only the middle and lower registers of his chest voice, without much 
dynamic flexibility, he does, however, consistently sing nearly perfectly in tune with no vi- 
brato. Thus although Eno’s manual and vocal skills may be limited in depth, they are broad in 
scope, furthermore, his sense of rhythm and timing, prime constituents of any definition of 
musicianship, are, while not exceptional, completely adequate for the type of music he has 
been interested in playing. 

Eno’s knowledge of traditional music theory is at least as limited as his manual skills. Lester 
Bangs asked him in 1979, “Have you ever had any formal music or theory training at all?” 

“No.” 

“Have you ever felt the pressure that you should get some?” 

“No, I haven’t, really. I can’t think of a time that I ever thought that, 
though I must have at one time. The only thing I wanted to find out, 
which I did find out, was what ‘modal’ meant, that was, I thought, a 
very interesting concept.” 

On another occasion, when an interviewer said, “You don’t know music theory and things of 
that sort,” Eno responded, “No, I don’t. Well, let’s say I know many theories about music, but 
I don’t know that particular one that has to do with notation.” 19 By this “notation theory,” we 
can probably assume that Eno is referring music theory as taught in school: the fundamentals 
of notation and the principles of harmony, counterpoint, and voice-leading found in the so- 
called “common practice” period of music history, essentially the eighteenth and nineteenth 
centuries. When we look at Eno’s music, particularly his progressive rock albums, we shall 
see that, like many if not most popular musicians, he uses standard major, minor, and seventh 
chords in sometimes traditional, but equally as often unpredictable, “empirical” ways - ways 
that ignore the statistical tables of “common,” “less common,” “strong” and “weak” chord 


17 Jensen, “Sound of Silence,” 23. 

18 Lester Bangs, “Eno,” Musician, Player & Listener 21 (Nov. 1979), 40. 

19 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 52. 


44 



progressions sometimes found in standard harmony textbooks. 20 Particularly striking in this 
regard is his almost complete avoidance of the tonic-dominant relationship, which almost 
inevitably brings with it the gravitational pull of functional tonality. (For instance, in a piece 
in C major, the dominant chord G7 feels like it is “pulling” the music towards the tonic chord 
of C, when G7 leads to C the listener feels a sense of tension followed by a resolution. Eno 
tends to avoid such “classical” tension/resolution chord pairs.) 

One aspect of the rock tradition - indeed, part of the meaning of the rock tradition - has been 
its refusal to let arbitrary technical standards of musicianship interfere with the music-making 
process. Much of the joy of early rock’n’roll, and of the skiffle music in England that pre- 
ceded it, sprang from the fact that anybody could grab a guitar and yank a few sounds out of 
it: it was music by and for non-specialists in music, and a certain anti-elitism as far as instru- 
mental and vocal technique were concerned was part of its whole ideology. 

The Beatles provided the most stunning early examples of how far one could go with a lim- 
ited, unexceptional technique. Like Eno, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were versatile but 
technically rather ordinary multi-instrumentalists who knew exactly what kinds of sounds 
they wanted to get out of the instruments they played - guitars, piano, other keyboards, as- 
sorted percussion, and bass. And when, like Eno, they moved into the modern recording stu- 
dio to produce such epochal albums as Revolver, Sergeant Pepper s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 
and Abbey Road, the studio itself became their instrument, and their ears became much more 
important than their hands. Lennon once said that if one were to compare his guitar playing 
with that of blues great B.B. King, “I would feel silly. [But] I’m an artist and if you give me a 
tuba I’ll bring you something out of it.” 21 In the late 1960s and early 1970s, of course, instru- 
mental virtuosity found a place in rock, with audiences responding to the pyrotechnics of gui- 
tarists like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix and keyboard players like Rick Wakeman and Keith 
Emerson much in the same way as nineteenth-century European audiences were ignited by the 
Paganinis of the day. And in their turn, the unschooled sounds of the punk and new-wave 
movements of the late 1970s represented another swing of the pendulum: once again, the 
point seemed to be that anybody with something to get off his chest could make music. 

The contrast between “Inspiration and Gymnastics” is the subject of a chapter in Bruno 
Nettl’s recent book The Study of Ethnomusicology, there he shows how these two approaches 
to music-making have formed a major constituent of concepts about music in many different 
societies at many different times. “The concept of ‘divine inspiration’ (according to which 
music-making should be easy)” is contrasted with “the ‘athletic view’ of music (according to 
which music-making - composing, improvising, performing - must be difficult to be truly 
great).” 22 Eno, the Beatles, and the new wavers fall into the “inspired” camp, Eric Clapton, 
Keith Emerson, and many progressive rockers are of the “gymnastic” musical type. 


20 See, for instance, Walter Piston, Harmony, 3rd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1962), 18, 
where the author offers a “Table of Usual Root Progressions”: “I is followed by IV or V, 
sometimes VI, less often II or III. II is followed by V, sometimes VI, less often I, III, or IV. 
Ill is followed by ... “ 

21 Jann Wenner, Lennon Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interviews (San Francisco: Straight 
Arrow Books, 1971), 48. 

22 Bruno Nettl, The Study of Ethnomusicology: Twenty-Nine Issues and Concepts (Urbana, 
Chicago, and London: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 33. 


45 



Eno has talked about his ideas on craft (or the lack of it) and musicianship since the beginning 
of his public career. Just prior to the release of his first solo album. Here Come the Warm Jets, 
he said: 

I’ll make a prediction here. I think, in fact, I shall be seen as a rock re- 
vivalist in a funny way, because the thing that people miss when they 
do their rock revival rubbish is the fact that early rock music was, in a 
lot of cases, the product of incompetence, not competence. There’s a 
misconception that these people were brilliant musicians and they 
weren’t. They were brilliant musicians in the spiritual sense. They had 
terrific ideas and a lot of balls or whatever. They knew what the physi- 

23 

cal function of music was, but they weren’t virtuosi.” 

Two years later he told an interviewer, “I’m an anti-musician. I don’t think the craft of music 
is relevant to the art of music.” 24 “Anti-music” has a specific meaning for some critics, for 
instance David Cope, who in his book New Directions in Music discusses the following cate- 
gories in his chapter on “Antimusic”: danger music (involving physical or mental hazard to 
the performer and/or audience), minimal and concept music (Cage’s famous 4 ’33 ” represent- 
ing these genres’ archetypal qualities), biomusic (“music created by natural life functions 
rather than by necessarily conscious attempts at composition”), and soundscapes (typically 
involving the focussing of attention on manipulated or natural environmental sounds). 25 Much 
of Eno’s music, particularly since around 1975, can certainly be seen in terms of these catego- 
ries, with the exception of “danger music.” 

But I doubt that Eno, in referring to himself as an anti-musician, was intent on allying himself 
with any of these movements. Rather, he was making a specific statement about the way he 
deals with his own creativity. In 1981 he said, “I don’t consider myself a professional musi- 
cian, though I do consider myself a professional composer.” 26 In one sense, Eno’s saying he is 
not a musician, or saying he is an anti-musician, is nothing radical: he is merely casting him- 
self in the role of the traditional composer whose function is to conceive the music and com- 
municate it to the audience in some way - without necessarily being competent to perform it 
himself. But there is a difference between Eno and the traditional composer. The composer’s 
final product is a musical score - a more or less conventional system of written signs that tell 
the performers what to do with more or less accuracy and completeness. Eno’s final product, 
on the other hand, is a sound recording that has only to be cued up on playback equipment to 
be heard - and up to the point of playback, Eno has had total control over the composition. 
Eno, like many if not most popular musicians, does not read music. The exact ways in which 
he conceives and works with sound, and the ways in which he communicates his intentions to 
his performers, are the subject of the next chapter. Here it will suffice to quote Eno’s answer 
to an interviewer who asked him whether his not reading music was a deliberate choice: 


23 Brown, “Eno’s Where It’s At,” 40. 

24 S. Davy, “Eno: Non-Musician on Non-Art,” Beetle (Jan. 1975), n.p. 

25 Cope, New Directions in Music, 196-222. The “Antimusic” chapter contains a useful bibli- 
ography of books and articles, recordings and publishers, and films. 

26 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 66. 


46 




It wouldn’t be very useful for me. There have been one or two occa- 
sions where I was stuck somewhere without my tape recorder and had 
an idea, tried to memorize it, and since a good idea nearly always re- 
lies on some unfamiliar nuance it is therefore automatically hard to 
remember. So on those very rare occasions I’ve thought, “God, if only 
I could write this down.” But in fact, quite a lot of what I do has to do 
with sound texture, and you can’t notate that anyway ... That’s because 
musical notation arose at a time when sound textures were limited. If 
you said violins and woodwind that defined the sound texture, if I say 
synthesizer and guitar it means nothing - you’re talking about 28,000 
variables. 27 

Eno goes on to reflect on the “transmission losses” that inevitably occur when a traditional 
composer or pop arranger takes a sounding idea and fixes it in written form, musicians read 
the written form, and then play it, the potential for distortion of the original information is 
present at each stage of the process - a dilemma to the painfulness of which any composer 
who uses notation can attest. 

Eno sees himself as having precisely the right amount of manual instrumental skill to do what 
he needs to do in order to make his music. He apparently does not feel that a higher level of 
instrumental technique might open the door for him to other kinds of musical expression. An 
interviewer asked him in 1981, “Do you ever practice things on a keyboard or a guitar in or- 
der to be able to execute them to your satisfaction?” He answered: “Not very often ... If 1 have 
a phrase that has a fast series of notes, I might break the phrase down into three simpler ones, 
and do them as overdubs.” 28 

This resolute lack of technique has become an integral part of Eno’s whole philosophical ap- 
proach to music-making. Whether out of inner or outer defensiveness, or out of honest self- 
examination, he has come up with a variety of justifications for remaining a “non-musician.” 
One is that lack of technique almost forces one to be creative: it makes one confront one’s 
vulnerability. Eno explains: 

I’ve seen musicians stuck for an idea, and what they’ll do between 
takes is just diddle around, playing the blues or whatever, just to reas- 
sure themselves that, “Hey, I’m not useless. Look, I can do this.” But I 
believe that to have that [technique] to fall back on is an illusion. It’s 
better to say, “I’m useless,” and start from that position. I think the 
way technique gets in the way is by fooling you into thinking that you 

9Q 

are doing something when you actually are not." 

Robert Fripp - who is, however, one of the most technically proficient and polished guitarists 
in rock - has built his approach to music-making around a similar idea. Fripp has said: 

You have to be there - with attention. And if you are, your state is 
changed from the normal and dozy condition we wander around 

2 j O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 31. 

28 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 55. 

29 Milkowski, “Brian Eno: Excursions,” 57. 


47 



within. And in the condition of heightened sensitivity and awareness, 
music is possible. You see, for a good player to just play licks, running 
on automatic, there’s no music there. It only seems to be music. There 
is what we would call musical sound and forms of organization, but 
there’s no quality. It’s only mechanical . 30 

Eno and Fripp arrive at the same point from opposite directions. As Eno has said, “The reason 
Fripp and I have always had a good rapport is because we stand at two ends of that spectrum. 
Tie’s the virtuoso and I’m the idiot savant, if you like. The middle territory of pointless dis- 
plays of skill and obvious next moves doesn’t interest either of us.” 31 

For Eno, another positive aspect of his lack of instrumental and theoretical proficiency is that 
it can lead to results that a trained musician would have ruled out or might not have even con- 
sidered. He illustrates this point by recalling a recording session in which Fripp had called 
him in to work on one of his albums. Fripp asked Eno what could be added to a particular 
song, and Eno said he had in mind a melodic part and some harmonic backing. Fripp asked 
what kind of harmonies, and Eno said, “I won’t know until I play them.” From that point, Eno 
proceeded empirically, building up the song track by track. Fripp listened to the final result 
and said, “That’s very interesting, because nobody would have arrived at that harmony by 
writing it out. There’s a wrong chord in it.” Eno concludes: “Had I known that [there was a 
‘wrong’ chord], I probably would have dismissed it as a possibility, even though it sounded 
good. Retaining my lack of proficiency to a certain extent allows me to make interesting mis- 
takes.” 32 

One of the Oblique Strategies cards says, “Honor thy mistake as a hidden intention.” And 
indeed one of the most delightful aspects of Eno’s creative personality is his inclination to 
take the idea of this oracle seriously, whether in searching empirically for the right harmonies 
by laying track after track on top of each other, whether in accepting the piano’s equal tem- 
perament as its most beautiful characteristic, or in sometimes finding charm and wonder in an 
out-of-tune live recording. In speaking of the live album he did with Kevin Ayers, John Cale, 
and Nico, June 1, 1974, he describes their encore performance of his song, “Baby’s on Fire,” 
in glowing terms: 

The instruments were incredibly out of tune, so out of tune you 
wouldn’t believe it. But it sounds fantastic. There’s one little bit in it 
where there’s a riff between the guitar and one of the bassists, and 
they’re so out of tune it sounds like cellos. Amazing! I mean if you 
tried to make that sound in the studio it would have taken you ages. 

You wouldn’t have thought of making it, in fact, it’s such a bizarre 
sound. And the piano and guitar are quite well out of tune as well. 

Ha ! 33 


30 Tom Mulhern, “Robert Fripp on the Discipline of Craft & Art,” Guitar Player 20 (Jan. 
1986), 91. 

31 Moore, “Eno = MC Squared,” 68. 

32 Moore, “Eno = MC Squared,” 68. A similar anecdote is related in Bangs, “Eno,” 40. 

33 Richard Cromelin, “Records: The Inmates Have Taken Over: Kevin Ayers, John Cale, 
Nico, Eno & the Soporifics, June 1, 1974” Creem 6 (Dec. 1974), 65. 


48 



This quality or discipline, which might be called “retroactive creativity” - consisting in the 
confident affirmation that a mistake worked out for the best - forms an important part of 
Eno’s work. Still another benefit that Eno has derived from his lack of manual technique is an 
abiding love of the simple and an ear for realizing the potential for the marvelous in the most 
rudimentary of musical materials. This has created problems in studio situations, where the 
skillful musicians he works with sometimes can’t help but produce complex musical ideas in 
their effort to be creative. Paradoxically, if an idea is musically complex to begin with - con- 
taining a lot of fast notes or difficult harmonies, for instance - Eno feels he can do less with it: 
his creative options are limited. “So the problem with musicians is always telling them to 
have confidence in a simple and beautiful thing, to know that there’s a whole world that can 
be extracted from a simple sound ... It’s not that because it’s simple, any idiot can do it. 
There’s sensitivity in the way you can strike just one note.” 34 

Eno’s primary asset, as with any composer, is his ear. Particularly since he works with sounds 
on tape rather than notes on the page, listening is his primary compositional activity. He has 
stressed again and again that the problem with many musicians, whether studio instrumental- 
ists, instrumental virtuosi, synthesizer wizards, or computer-music composers, is that they do 
not listen to what they are doing. For his part, he is content to work with sound materials that 
he can understand, however minimal they may appear. As he has said, “The greater you un- 
derstand the structure of something, the more you’11 be amazed at the tiniest movement within 
it. In that sense the possibilities are limitless.” 35 

As we have already seen, some of the musicians Eno admires most are those who have real- 
ized that “there are really distinct advantages to working within a quite restricted range of 
possibilities.” 36 Ultimately, this line of thought can become a transformational philosophy 
applicable to the whole of life, not just to musical composition. As Eno has advised, “Regard 
your limitations as secret strengths. Or as constraints that you can make use of.” 37 

By 1981, if not before, Eno had come to the conclusion that the recording studio and the em- 
pirical method of composing has created a new art form, a whole new kind of “music”: “In 
some sense it’s so different that it really should be called by a different name. The only simi- 
larity is that people listen to it, so it enters through the same sense, but in the way it’s made 
it’s really a different thing.” 38 

Since Eno came to these conclusions, the music world has been transformed by the applica- 
tion of computer technology to musical instalments and music data storage methods. MIDI 
(Musical Instrument Digital Interface) has been invented and nowadays different brands of 
synthesizers and computers happily talk to each other in a common language. A composer or 
rock band can create complex multi-track music on a MIDI sequencer, store it on floppy disk, 
edit it by computer, and print it out in notated form or play it back in a flawless “perform- 
ance” at the touch of a button. The new digital music technology is a non-musician’s dream, 
that is, one needs very little traditional musicianly skill in order to produce impressive - 


34 Milkowski, “Brian Eno: Excursions,” 57. 

35 Mark Howell, “From a Strangers Evening with Brian Eno,” Another Room (June/July 
1981), n.p. 

36 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 45. 

37 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 57. 

38 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 56-7. 


49 



sounding masses of sound. As prices come down, more and more musicians and amateurs are 
getting their hands on electronic equipment, building little home studios, and experiencing 
first-hand the kind of empirical compositional process Eno has described in detail. Even if we 
still call it music, the medthods by which sounding substances are made and thought about 
have been changed radically, perhaps forever. 


50 



CHAPTER FIVE: 
LISTENERS AND AIMS 


Eno’s Audience 

Judging by sales figures of his recordings, Eno’s audience is not very large by rock standards, 
compared with composers of avant-garde or contemporary fine art music of the academic va- 
riety, however, he has a substantial following. According to George Rush, Eno’s progressive 
rock albums have each sold between 100,000 and 150,000 copies, as has Music for Airports', 
his other ambient music albums have all sold around 50,000 copies. 1 Although Eno has said 
he receives “encouraging letters from listeners, whose ages range from twelve to sixty,” 2 the 
drop-off of record sales represented by his ambient music indicates that there are many young 
listeners who found his brand of progressive rock exciting and worth buying, but who have 
not been willing to follow his career closely as it has gone into the realms of the ambient. 

Eno has constantly searched for a kind of middle ground between the rarefied realms of high 
art and the everyday ephemera of popular culture. It stands to reason that he would view his 
audience as people interested in that same territory. He tries to make his music accordingly, 
making pieces that “seduce people to the point where they start searching.” If a piece of music 
has a seductive sounding surface but no real content, or conversely, if the content of a piece is 
obscured by complicated and unattractive procedures on the surface, Eno believes the music 
has failed. What interests him is “sitting on that line” between seductive surface and meaning- 
ful content. 3 

Although Eno has made few concert appearances over the last decade, the sense of making 
music for an audience, however abstract, is important to him: “If I ever found I was doing 
work that nobody was interested in, I would seriously doubt it. I wouldn’t want to be in the 
position of not feeling connected anymore.” 4 Thus unlike Milton Babbitt 5 and many another 
contemporary composer who sees his work as a kind of research and development in the 
cause of the advancement of music, not needing the approval or feedback of the public or any 
particular segment thereof, Eno is unable to be quite so detached about his work - his position 
is more traditional, in the sense of an artist doing work that his audience can appreciate and 


1 George Rush, “Brian Eno: Rock’s Svengali Pursues Silence,” Esquire 98 (Dec. 1982), 132. 
Eno remarked in 1982 that his records “don’t sell terribly well - around 100,000, I suppose, 
which is enough to make some money from. My music is used in quite a lot of films, TV 
things, other uses. That’s strictly bonus income, because they use stuff that already exists.” 
Steven Grant, “Brian Eno Against Interpretation,” Trouser Press 9 (Aug. 1982), 29. 

2 Rush, “Eno: Rock’s Svengali,” 132. 

3 Jim Aikin, “Brian Eno,” Keyboard 7 (July 1981), 64. 

4 John Rockwell, “The Odyssey of Two British Rockers,” New York Times, 23 July 1978, 
11:16. 

5 Milton Babbitt, “Who Cares If You Listen?,” High Fidelity 8 (Feb. 1958), 38. 


51 



understand and even is willing to pay for. He makes, as Wayne Robins has put it, “music you 
can live with.” 6 

Eno’s relationship to his primary chosen medium - the phonograph record - has been ambiva- 
lent in the 1980s. After a string of ambient solo albums and collaborations, he has recently 
been devoting much more time to his audio-visual installations. An interviewer asked him in 
1983: “You mentioned that you’ve gotten very suspicious of records lately. Can you elabo- 
rate?” He replied: 

I don’t like the form much anymore. I’ve become more and more in- 
terested in music that has a location of some kind, like gospel music - 
you go somewhere and you become part of something in order to ex- 
perience the music. You enter a whole different social and acoustic set- 
ting. There’s a whole context that goes with the music. Just sitting in 
your living room and sticking on some record is a whole other thing . 7 

As an analogy with the new music that is completely studio-produced, Eno recalls the birth of 
photography in the 19th century: initially, the new technology was used as a substitute for 
painting, to make inexpensive portraits, the desire to imitate painting went as far as the use of 
canvas-textured photographic paper. Similarly, the early history of filmmaking shows produc- 
ers interested essentially in putting traditional dramatic ideas to work on celluloid. And with 
early sound recordings, the idea was to capture a live musical performance as faithfully as 
possible. With time, however, 

a point was reached where it became realized that this medium had its 
own strengths and limitations, and therefore could become a different 
form through its own rules. 

I think that’s true of records as well. They’ve got nothing to do now 
with performances. It’s now possible to make records that have music 
that was never perfonned or never could be perfonned and in fact 
doesn’t exist outside of that record. And if that’s the area you work in, 
then I think you really have to consider that as part of your working 
philosophy. So for quite a while now I’ve been thinking that if I make 
records, I want to think not in terms of evoking a memory of a per- 
formance, which never existed in fact, but to think in terms of making 
a piece of sound which is going to be heard in a type of location, usu- 
ally someone’s house ... I assume [my listeners] are sitting very com- 

8 

fortably and not expecting to dance. 

Discussing film on another occasion, Eno doubted whether “naturalism” was really possible: 


6 Quoted in Tom Hull, “Eno Races Toward the New World,” Village Voice 21 (12 Apr. 1976), 

88 . 

7 Bill Milkowski, “Brian Eno: Excursions in the Electronic Environment,” Down Beat 50 
(June 1983), 16. 

8 Millkowski, “Brian Eno: Excursions,” 16. 


52 



The concept of naturalism in any of the recorded media is worthy of 
debate. Has a film got anything to do with real life? I don’t think it 
does ... 

What do Fellini’s films have to do with naturalism? He works with the 
inaccuracies of memory. In Amacord there’s the tobacconist with the 
very big tits. In real life they were probably not that big. But they were 
his first big tits, and he remembers them as being very big. It’s the op- 
posite direction from naturalism: elevating things to mythical, arche- 
typal status. Make them more dreamlike. That’s a feeling / like a lot . 9 

The conscious recognition that in his studio-created music he is dealing with an inherently 
non-naturalistic medium analogous to that of the art film, abstract painting, or modern photog- 
raphy has given Eno’s work a certain quality of depth consistent with its “mythical, arche- 
typal” conception. Such ideas are not unique in modern music: electronic music composers 
since the 1950s have been confronted with the dilemmas of performerless and placeless mu- 
sic, though after the initial flirtations and experiments with synthesized sound and tape re- 
corders had run their course, many composers gave up purely electronic music since some- 
thing indeed seemed to be missing. Eno is unusual in how carefully he has thought through 
the whole matter, and in his courageous persistence in seeking an audience for this elusive 
music that is made, yet not performed. In speaking of what he termed the “landscape music” 
of ambient-style albums like On Land , he said, “I don’t quite know what it is. There isn’t any 
tradition for it ... The problem is always calling it music. I wish there were another word for 
it.” 10 This dissatisfaction with the traditional word is reminiscent of Edgar Varese, who pre- 
ferred the term “organized sound,” and of Igor Stravinsky, who in searching for a formulation 
for the sound of Anton Webern’s music, came up with the term “illuminated noise.” 

Thus Eno is fully aware of the transformation in the meaning of music that results from the 
revolution in listening habits and environments made possible through the availability of in- 
expensive, high-quality playback equipment. He is fond of referring to Marshall McLuhan’s 
idea that all music is now all present - “not only is the whole history of our music with us 
now, in some sense, on record, but the whole global musical culture is also available.” 11 In 
this transformed aural habitat, what sort of meaning does Eno see for his own music? To what 
sorts of purposes does he imagine people putting it to use? With regard to these questions, 
Eno has been most forthcoming in connection with his ambient music. In a statement in 1982 
which is worthwhile quoting in full, he discussed his ambient music and its uses: 

I like it [“ambient music”] as an ambiguous tenn. It gives me a certain 
latitude. 

It has two major meanings. One is the idea of music that allows you 
any listening position in relation to it. This has widely been misinter- 
preted by the press (in their infinite unsubtlety) as background music. I 


9 Steven Grant, “Brian Eno Against Interpretation,” Trouser Press 9 (Aug. 1982), 29. 

10 Milkowski, “Brian Eno: Excursions,” 17. 

11 Brian Eno, “Pro Session: The Studio as Compositional Tool - Part I,” lecture delivered at 
New Music New York, the first New Music America Festival sponsored in 1979 by the 
Kitchen, excerpted by Howard Mandel, Down Beat 50 (July 1983), 56. 


53 



mean music that can be background or foreground or anywhere, which 
is a rather different idea. 

Most music chooses its own position in terms of your listening to it. 
Muzak wants to be back there. Punk wants to be up front. Classical 
wants to be another place. I wanted to make something you could slip 
in and out of. You could pay attention or you could choose not to be 
distracted by it if you wanted to do something while it was on. I can’t 
read with a pop record playing, or with most classical records. They’re 
not intended to leave that part of the mind free - my mind, anyway. 
Ambient music allows many different types of attention. 

The other meaning is more pronounced on On Land : creating an ambi- 
ence, a sense of place that complements and alters your environment. 
Both meanings are contained in the word “ambient.” 

Critics don’t like these records, but people do. The response has been 
really encouraging. 

People are doing the most interesting things with the records. I got a 
letter from a woman in Cleveland who works with autistic children. 

She had one child who never spoke, he had never made a single vocal 
noise in his life. Another one wouldn’t sleep, he was ultra-nervous, in 
a wretched state. She put Discreet Music on one day, and the kid who 
had never slept just lay down on a concrete floor and went to sleep. So 
she went to the group where this other kid was, and she kept playing 
Discreet Music. And this little child - not only because of the record, 
I’m sure, though the other one was - started talking. I’m not claiming 
Discreet Music can make the dumb talk, but it’s nice to know it can be 
used as part of an atmosphere that produces physiological change in 
people, or seems to. 

When Music for Airports came out and sold fairly well, I thought peo- 
ple assumed it was going to be another Before and After Science. It 
takes a long while to learn whether you’re selling on the momentum of 
your successes. I don’t think that’s so anymore. I’ve almost shifted au- 
diences. I meet people who never knew I made a record of songs. 

Critics can’t stand these records, by and large, because in their search 

for eternal adolescence they still want it all to be spunky and manic 

and witty. They come back to rock music again and again, expecting to 

feel like kids. That isn’t what I want from music anymore - not in 

quite that way. I’m interested in the idea of feeling like a very young 

12 

child, but I’m not interested in feeling like a teenager. 


12 Grant, “Eno Against Interpretation,” 30. 


54 



The last paragraph in this quotation ties in with Eno’s many reservations about rock in gen- 
eral. Clearly, his ambient music has been aimed at a different audience than his progressive 
rock music, or at least at a different mode of receptivity. With his ambient works, Eno has 
explicitly tried to make music that is not too self-assertive, that does not intrude too much, 
that does not dare its audience to listen nor threaten them if they choose not to - yet at the 
same time, music that is complex and deep enough to sustain and reward close listening. His 
ambient music is designed to be played at low or medium volume, high volume settings do 
violence to the sense and spirit of the music. Close listening reveals a constantly changing 
soundscape, yet paradoxically the same music can seem static and uneventful, though benign 
enough, if one is not really paying attention. Critics of Eno’s ambient works have often com- 
plained that nothing much happens in the music. He answers such criticism by comparing his 
musical works to paintings, in their aspect as “a sort of continuous part of the environment” 
that one can choose to notice or to ignore: 

If a painting is hanging on a wall where we live, we don’t feel that 
we’re missing something by not paying attention to it ... Yet with mu- 
sic and video, we still have the expectation of some kind of drama. My 
music and videos do change, but they change slowly. And they change 
in such a way that it doesn’t matter if you miss a bit ... The conven- 
tional commercial notion that people want a lot of stimulus and con- 
stant change simply isn’t true. In the world I come from, the pop 
world, there’s always this notion that the public is basically very lazy 
and has to be prodded all the time. So everything is loaded with so- 

1 -3 

called surprises and changes. 

Eno’s Artistic Intent 

The question of “artistic intent” is always a slippery one when dealt with in the verbal mode, 
for there is a significant sense in which the artist’s intent is fully evident only in the art-works 
themselves, furthermore, it is not even logically or philosophically necessary to posit the con- 
cept of a linear, clearly formulated intent at all. 14 Added to these difficulties is the fact that 
Eno has spoken unsympathetically about music that “comes so heavily laden with intention 
that you can’t hear it for the intentions.” 15 In spite of all this, Eno has frequently addressed the 
issues of what it means to him to make music and what sorts of meaning he hopes his music is 
able to convey to his audience. 


13 Anthony Korner, “Aurora Musicalis,” Artforum 24:10 (Summer 1986), 78. 

14 See W.K. Wimsatt and M.C. Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy,” The Sewanee Review 54 
(1946). In the words of Philip Gossett, Wimsatt and Beardsley “attack as irrelevant to criti- 
cism questions, such as ‘What was the poet’s intention in writing this poem?’ or ‘What did he 
mean by this allusion?,’ whose answers must be statements divorced from a reading of the 
poem itself and usually expressed in language not derived from it.” Gossett, “Beethoven’s 
Sixth Symphony: Sketches for the First Movement,” Journal of the American Musicological 
Society 28 (Summer 1974), 260. 

15 Rob Tannenbaum, “A Meeting of Sound Minds: John Cage and Brian Eno,” Musician 83 
(Sept. 1985), 70. 


55 



In his progressive rock music, Eno was attempting a synthesis of avant-garde artistic concepts 
with the stylistic forms of rock music, up to around 1974 he was unflinching in his declaration 
that “rock is the most important art form right now.” 16 The quality that was to bind everything 
together was what he called his “idiot energy” - a kind of gleeful abandon, a revelling in the 
possibilities of such a synthesis and in the improbable results that sometimes ensued. Shortly 
after he left Roxy Music, he explained his position: 

What it [Roxy’s first album without Eno] lacks for me is one of the 
most important elements of my musical life, which is insanity. I’m in- 
terested in things being absurd and there was something really exciting 
in Roxy at one time. We were juxtaposing things that didn’t naturally 
sit together . 17 

Roxy’s early work held for Eno the attraction of “the element of clumsiness and grotesque- 
ness ... There was terrific tension at one stage in the music, which I really enjoyed.” 18 Exactly 
how Eno succeeded in working the qualities of insanity, absurdity, clumsiness, and grotesque- 
ness into his progressive rock music is the subject of Chapter 9. Such qualities contrast 
sharply with the qualities of mystery, wonder, seductiveness, and transparent beauty that char- 
acterize the intent of his ambient music. But even in his early career Eno was interested in 
more than making a specific kind of rock music: 

My role in rock music isn’t to come on with New Musical Ideas in any 
strict sense. It’s to come on with new concepts about how you might 
generate music. It’s always time to question what has become standard 
and established. I figure that in a way, my contribution ... will be more 
on a theoretical basis, about suggesting greater freedom in the way 
people approach music . 19 

The complexity of this intent should always be borne in mind when considering Eno’s music. 
If his belief that music is about other music cannot be held to be true for all music, it certainly 
does apply to much of his own. There has always been this element of distancing in Eno’s 
relationship to his own music, it is as though he has never been quite willing to say of his mu- 
sic, “Here it is, this is it, this is my music and that’s all there is to it.” His intent encompasses a 
larger conceptual territory than that of just simply making music for its own sake, his ambiva- 
lent, paradoxical statement quoted above about calling his ambient works music at all bears 
this out. 

If Eno has been anxious that his listeners understand his work in a large historical and concep- 
tual context, however, he is decidedly uninterested in being identified with any particular 
school of musical practice, whether inside rock or out. As we have already seen, he has criti- 
cized progressive rock for its “Gothic” tendencies and technological excesses. On the other 
hand he has not been anxious to identify completely with the avant-garde. Not even the ideas 
of Cage have met with his unconditional approval or endorsement. At the same time, Eno 


16 Cynthia Dagnal, “Eno and the Jets: Controlled Chaos,” Rolling Stone 169 (12 Sept. 1974), 
16. 

17 Geoff Brown, “Eno’s Where It’s At” Melody Maker 48 (10 Nov. 1973), 40. 

18 Brown, “Eno’s Where It’s At,” 40. 

19 Allan Jones, “Eno: On Top of Tiger Mountain,” Melody Maker 49 (26 Oct. 1974), 39. 


56 



does not wish to get stuck in some extreme artistic fringe, but rather wants his music to be 
rooted in the real world of real listeners. Furthermore, he acknowledges, both explicitly (in 
verbal statements) and implicitly (in the character of his music), the active and ongoing rela- 
tionship of his music with other musical traditions. The complexity of Eno’s debt to other 
traditions, though, should be evident. In the interview with Eno and Cage, the latter said: 

When I was just beginning there were only two things you could do: 
one was to follow Schoenberg and the other was to follow Stravinsky. 

If you want to be a modern composer now, there are so many things to 
do, and people do them ... It’s a changed world. It’s not a world in 
which we are obliged to follow a mainstream, represented by X or Y. 

Eno readily concurred: “That’s right, you don’t have to belong to a pantheon or even know 
about it.” 20 

“I want to make things that put me in the position of innocence, that recreate the feeling of 
innocence in you.” 21 Eno has said this in different ways on many different occasions. The 
emotional component of his work is extremely strong, even if in his ambient music its range is 
somewhat limited. Wonder, mystery, melancholy, subdued joy, and a sense of the strange-yet- 
familiar are what he has systematically been tiying to acheive in his wordless ambient music. 
If the emotional component is strong, however, it is usually present as a kind of deep under- 
current: it does not burst from the surface of the music nor confront the listener with unambi- 
guous, expressionistic intent. This is, by and large, as true of his progressive rock as of his 
ambient music, and can be seen as reflecting a “classical” - as opposed to “romantic” - strain 
in Eno’s temperament. In 1978 he criticized 

bands who want to give the illusion by their music that the music itself 
is the result of incredible, seething passions and turmoil from within, 
and all this music comes out as a direct result of that. It’s a case of, 

“Boy, are we in a sort of emotional turmoil, here it all comes.” 

The way I work, and the way a lot of other people work, is to create 
music that creates a feeling in you. You set out in a rather deliberate 
way to do this by carefully constructing a piece that will evoke in you 
the feeling that you want. It’s not the other way round, where you have 

all these feelings that then suddenly force this piece to exist in what- 

22 

ever form it takes. 

Eno’s “classicism” does not necessarily imply unambiguous, direct expression, part of the 
sense of mystery arises from the listener’s uncertainty as regards the precise nature of the mu- 
sic’s emotional content. Eno is apt to throw up barriers to interpreting any given piece in any 
one single way, the veiled, multiple, obscure, or discreet intention is part of his whole aes- 
thetic. Even in the lyrics to his progressive rock songs, Eno was at pains not to make his emo- 
tional statements too explicit, too prone to any one interpretation. To him, that would defeat 


20 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 72. 

21 Alan Jensen, “The Sound of Silence: A Thursday Afternoon with Brian Eno,” Electronics 
& Music Maker (Dec. 1985), 22. 

22 Lee Moore, “Eno = MC Sqaured,” Creem 10 (Nov. 1978), 67. 


57 



the purpose of making a musical statement at all. For instance, although has written songs that 
appear to be more or less about lust (“The Great Pretender”) and about male/female compan- 
ionship (“St. Elmo’s Fire,” “Julie with...”), he has not produced anything that could indisputa- 
bly be called a “love song” in the popular music or rock traditions. In 1979 Eno was asked, 
“But isn’t it difficult and mysterious enough to try to understand why you love a certain per- 
son? Isn’t that feeling worth writing about?” He responded: 

No, not for me. I’m not interested in it. I mean, I’m not interested in 
writing about it. It’s certainly not something that I would ever use mu- 
sic to discuss, at least not in clear terms like that. You see, he problem 
is that people, particularly people who write, assume that the meaning 
of a song is vested in the lyrics. To me, that has never been the case. 

There are very few songs that I can think of where I even remember 
the words, actually, let alone think that those are the center of the 
meaning. For me, music in itself carries a whole set of messages which 
are very, very rich and complex, and the words either serve to exclude 
certain ones of those, or point up certain others that aren’t really in 
there, or aren’t worth saying, or something . 23 

Another aspect of intent involves what making music means to Eno personally. What attracts 
him to being a composer, and what keeps him at it? Eno has often discussed the fact that his 
earliest musical experiences came without a context: one reason that do-wop and big-band 
jazz seemed so wonderful to him was that such music appeared completely “alien,” totally 
other: he had as yet acquired no inner historical framework. Increased knowledge inevitably 
led to a certain disillusionment, diffusing some of the music’s mystery, and it is precisely that 
sense of mystery that he wishes to put back into the music he makes, by deliberately disman- 
tling or shifting the stylistic contexts of the materials he works with. 24 

Composing also takes on the aspect of an introspective search - a search for undiscovered 
territory within the self: 

I think the trait common to most artists is an attraction towards the 
thrill of uncertainty, and an impulse to again and again put themselves 
in a precarious position, even if it’s in a very insulated way. Making 
records doesn’t threaten your life. If you fuck it up you’re not gonna 
die, but nonetheless, the thrill is to do something that takes you by sur- 
prise, that makes you wonder, god, what in me does this concept con- 

25 

nect with? What part of me have I discovered now? 

The element of risk is important to Eno in creative as well as day-to-day situations. In 1976 he 
told an interviewer, “My interest in danger is at a peak. The real risks are the ones which 
threaten your mental stability - I mean which threaten your ability to have a ready answer.” 26 
Indeed, many if not most of Eno’s compositions are begun without a clear idea of what they 


23 Bangs, “Eno,” 42. 

Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 62. 

25 Kristine McKenna, “Eno,” Wet 25 (July/Aug. 1980), 45. 

26 Judy Nylon, “Eno’s Other Green Worlds,” Circus (27 Apr. 1976), 23. 


58 



will ultimately end up sounding like - quite a different process from that in which Mozart is 
said to have “seen” entire symphonic movements, fully orchestrated, in moments of blinding 
illumination. 


“Generating and Organizing Variety in the Arts” 

Eno’s primary written statement concerning compositional processes in the abstract and social 
aspects of music-making was an article published in 1976. 27 In its broad outlines, the essay 
consists of a polemic against traditional methods of composition and the educational and insti- 
tutional structures that have evolved with and around the concept of the composer in the past 
two centuries, an examination of some alternative compositional options, and a bold attempt 
to integrate the point of view of cybernetics - “the science of organization” - with musical 
and compositional strategies. It is densely written, in a detached and formal style that refrains 
from excessive rhetorical posturing while still managing to express a definite point of view. 

Eno opens with a provocative statement: “A musical score is a statement about organization, it 
is a set of devices for organizing behaviour towards producing sounds.” While composers of 
the past two centuries have concentrated on the specific instructions given to the performers, 
the mode of social organization and interaction implied by the use of a score has remained 
essentially static. “A traditional orchestra is a ranked pyramidical hierarchy of the same kind 
as the armies that existed contemporary to it.” The pyramid of power has the composer and 
his absolutely binding “intentions and aspirations” at its pinnacle, in descending positions of 
power are the conductor, leader of the orchestra, soloists if called for, section principals, sec- 
tion subprincipals, and finally rank and file members at the bottom. This ranking system has 
three characteristics that are in Eno’s view problematic or symptomatic. First, it “reflects 
varying degrees of responsibility.” Second, “like perspective in painting, it creates ‘focus’ and 
‘point of view.’” In the foreground is the intent of the composer, the conductor’s interpreta- 
tion, and the performance of the soloist(s), the playing of the rank and file members is liable 
to be perceived as a kind of background phenomenon. Third, the orchestra’s ranking system 

predicates the use of trained musicians. A trained musician is, at the 
minimum, one who will produce a predictable sound given a specific 
instruction. His training teaches him to be capable of operating pre- 
cisely like all the other members of his rank. It trains him, in fact, to 

subdue some of his own natural variety and thus to increase his reli- 

28 

ability (predictability). 

Eno never comes right out and says that he believes this variety-reducing effect of the institu- 
tions of classical music to be undesirable or entirely negative. Rather, he borrows from cyber- 
netics, holding up as an ideal for musical composition and performance the concept of an or- 
ganism or system whose behavior is determined not through predictable subservience to a 
centralized control structure, but through “a responsive network of subsystems capable of 


27 Brian Eno, “Generating and Organizing Variety in the Arts,” Studio International 984 
(Nov. /Dec. 1976), 279-83. The article was reprinted in Gregory Battock, ed., Breaking the 
Sound Barrier: A Critical Anthology’ of the New Music (New York: Dutton, 1981). 

28 Eno, “Generating and Organizing Variety,” 279. 


59 



autonomous behaviour.” 29 Musical scores composed with this ideal in mind would not be 
conceived as a means of controlling the behavior of the performers to the sole end of carrying 
out the composer’s intent. Rather, musical scores would be heuristic, attempting to take ad- 
vantage of, rather than to suppress, the natural variety occasioned by the performers and per- 
formance situation. Eno quotes cybernetician Stafford Beer’s definition of a “heuristic” with 
approval: “a set of instructions for searching out an unknown goal by exploration, which con- 
tinuously or repeatedly evaluates progress according to some known criterion.” 30 Eno cites 
Beer’s example of a non-musical heuristic: “If you wish to tell someone how to reach the top 
of a mountain which is shrouded in mist, the heuristic ‘keep going up’ will get them there.” 31 

Much of Eno ’s essay consists of a discussion of examples of contemporary experimental mu- 
sic whose scores can be considered heuristic. Cornelius Cardew’s “Paragraph 7” (from The 
Great Learning) is the piece treated at greatest length. 32 This is a vocal score in which consid- 
erable freedom is given to the performers in terms of which pitches to sing and how long to 
hold them. The overall effect is one of meditative calm and tranquility - a slowly shifting, 
complex yet not too dissonant chord with a sense of one central drone pitch. What fascinates 
Eno about “Paragraph 7” is how the score stipulates not a specific result, but a range of possi- 
ble results, how it accomodates the instincts and respects the choices of performers of all lev- 
els of musical training, and how elements not inherent in the score become primary features 
of the sound (beat frequencies appear between different sustained sung notes, and the strong- 
est pitch, which naturally evolves out of the minimal instructions, becomes the resonating 
frequency of the room itself, which will vary from performance to performance - the singers 
pick it up intuitively and gravitate towards it). Eno sums up his discussion of “Paragraph 7”: 

Something quite different from classical compositional technique is 
taking place: the composer, instead of ignoring or subduing the variety 
generated in performance, has constructed the piece so that this variety 
is really the substance of the music. 

Perhaps the most concise description of this kind of composition, 
which characterizes much experimental music, is offered in a state- 
ment made by the cybernetician Stafford Beer. He says: “Instead of 
trying to specify it in full detail, you specify it only somewhat. You 
then ride on the dynamics of the system in the direction you want to 
go.” In the case of the Cardew piece, the “dynamics of the system” is 
its interaction with the environmental, physiological and cultural cli- 

33 

mate surrounding its performance. 


29 Eno, “Generating and Organizing Variety,” 283. 

30 Stafford Beer, Brain of the Firm: The Managerial Cybernetics of Organization (London: 
Allen Lane, 1972), 69. Quoted in Eno, “Generating and Organizing Variety,” 283. 

31 Eno, “Generating and Organizing Variety,” 283. 

32 Eno was involved with four performances of the piece, one of which was recorded. Corne- 
lius Cardew, The Great Learning, DGG 2538216. 

33 Eno, “Generating and Organizing Variety,” 281. The Beer quotation is from Brain of the 
Firm, 69. 


60 



Another experimental piece Eno finds laudable for similar reasons is Michael Nyman’s 1-100, 
which was recorded on Eno’s own Obscure label. 4 “In this piece, four pianists each play the 
same sequence of 100 [mostly relatively consonant] chords descending slowly down the key- 
board. A player is instructed to move on to his next chord only when he can no longer hear his 
last.”’ 3 As in the Cardew piece, these instructions produce not a specific result but a range of 
possible results, and the performers must be actively involved in creative listening throughout, 
also, the technical level of ability of the pianists need not be high, although here they must be 
able to cope with the basics of musical notation and a considerable number of ledger lines. 

Cardew’s “Paragraph 7,” Nyman’s 1-100, and Gavin Bryars’s Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me 
Yet (another piece Eno treats briefly) share a quality that was beginning to surface in Eno’s 
own music around the time this essay was published: they give the sense of being music that 
“is a section from a hypothetical continuum [that is] not especially directional - it does not 
exhibit strong “progress” from one point (position, theme, statement, argument) to a resolu- 
tion.” 36 One cannot imagine a movement from a Beethoven symphony ending halfway 
through with a fadeout ending, but one can imagine any number of modern experimental 
pieces ending this way, since they give no sense of driving inexorably into the future along a 
developmental line. 

Eno does not wish to go too far in his classification and judgement of types of composition 
and performance practices. Rather he proposes that every type of music can be placed some- 
where along a “scale of orientations” based on the extent to which it tends to subdue or en- 
courage variety in performance. A free-jazz improvisation would be placed towards one end 
of the scale, a classical symphony towards the other. However, 

virtually any example will show that aspects of each orientation exist 
in any piece. What I am arguing for is a view of musical development 
as a process of generating new hybrids ... A scale of this kind does not 
tell us much about the music that we place on it, but its function is to 
remind us to think in terms of hybrids. 

“Generating and Organizing Variety in the Arts” is primarily an essay about process, Eno does 
not broach questions of aesthetics as such. Although he declares that the most important char- 
acteristic of Cardew’s “Paragraph 7” is its calm, meditative quality, and directs one small barb 
at the modern music establishment (Nyman’s 1-100 “is extremely beautiful to listen to - a 
factor which seems to carry little critical weight at present”), 38 the focus of the essay is on the 
ways music is made. Eno does not discuss the large quantities of aleatory (partially impro- 
vised) and indeterminate (chance) music composed in the 1950s and 1960s by Pierre Boulez, 
Cage, Lukas Foss, and others, much of whose non-tonal sounding surface clashes so radically 
with his own aesthetic preferences and commitments. To Eno, the product is ultimately at 
least as important as the process. 


34 Michael Nyman, Decay Music, Obscure/Editions EG OBS 6, 1976. 

35 Eno, “Generating and Organizing Variety,” 281-2. 

36 Eno, “Generating and Organizing Variety,” 282. 

37 Eno, “Generating and Organizing Variety,” 282. 

38 Eno, “Generating and Organizing Variety,” 282. 


61 



It is probably fair to say that, under the sway of the image of the authority of the musical 
score - and for someone who does not read music, that image must seem all the more oppres- 
sive - Eno underestimates the importance of “process” in the rehearsal and performance of 
classical pieces. Orchestral players may be forced to subdue some of their natural variety, but 
the whole regimen of musical training is nothing if not a process and a discipline, such disci- 
pline may appear less interesting to an outsider than spontaneous playing, but certainly a 
worthwhile product is rarely achieved by totally automatic music-making in any situation. 

Furthermore, the classical tradition is somewhat more open to expressive variety than Eno, 
with his military image of the orchestra, seems to allow. The orchestra may or may not be “the 
paradigm of classical organization,” as Eno puts it, but in any case he chooses to ignore the 
role of improvisation in art music - which, though admittedly in almost total eclipse for over a 
century and a half, has begun to be resuscitated by musicians concerned with authentic his- 
torical performance practices. Improvising over a ground bass, realizing a Baroque figured 
bass or a French unmeasured prelude (types of music composed in notational “shorthand,” 
leaving many rhythmic and textural choices up to the player), extemporizing a set of varia- 
tions on a theme, elaborating a melody through creative selection from an array of embellish- 
ments - certainly in each of these cases one can speak of a process that aims at a range of pos- 
sible results rather than at a single, entirely predictable result. 

But in the cybernetic concept of the adapting, intelligent, complex, heuristically-directed or- 
ganism finding its way amongst a pleroma of environmental and evolutionary alternatives, 
Eno has found a striking analogy for the workings of a kind of music-making process that 
today is to a great extent ruled out by traditional institutions. It was a process in which he had 
participated through his performances of experimental pieces, and in a different way, it was a 
process that he was trying to encourage, as we shall see, in the making of his own progressive 
rock and ambient music albums. 


62 



CHAPTER SIX: 

THE COMPOSITIONAL PROCESS 


Equipment 

Composer/non-musician Brian Eno’s domain or arena of operation has always been that of the 
recording studio and tape recorder, both of which he has referred to as his “real instalments. ” 
As we have seen, many of his comments on other pieces of music hinge not on what a musi- 
cologist might be inclined to call their “purely musical” qualities - melody, harmony, rhythm, 
and so on - but rather on aspects of production and engineering, on how the recording studio 
was used to produce a particular kind of sound texture. 

As Eno himself has pointed out, his musical work is so heavily dependent on technology that 
it could not have existed in any previous age. 1 When he speaks of himself in terms of being a 
painter with sound, or a constructor of sonic landscapes, he is being more than metaphorical: 
for in a very real sense, magnetic tape is his canvas, and he applies his sound-substances to 
that canvas, mixes them, blends them, determines their shape, in a specific “painterly” way. 
He has just enough instrumental technique to give him his “pigments” to begin with, in the 
previous chapter we saw how he finds it much more difficult to work with initial recorded 
materials that already have a complexity of their own. His claim to be not so much a com- 
poser as a sound-painter is reinforced by his statements to the effect that the way he works 
with light in his video pieces is identical to the way he works with sound in his music. 

Eno wrote a lecture called “The Studio As Compositional Tool” which he delivered at a num- 
ber of places in England and the United States in the late 1970s and which was eventually 
published in Down Beat magazine in 1983. 2 The first part of the lecture presents an informal, 
sketchy history of sound recording, while the second part presents an overview of the struc- 
ture and components of the modern studio, with examples of how Eno has taken advantage of 
this layout in his own work. But even when Eno is talking about the nuts and bolts of history, 
his point of view - his interpretation of history - is clearly evident. A philosophical point on 
which he lays particular stress is how the act of recording has radically changed the nature of 
music. Before the advent of sound recording, 

The piece disappeared when it was finished, so it was something that 
only existed in time. The effect of recording is that it takes music out 
of the time dimension and puts it into the space dimension. As soon as 
you do that, you’re in a position of being able to listen again and again 
to a performance, to become familiar with details you most certainly 
had missed the first time through, and to become very fond of details 
that weren’t intended by the composer or the musicians. The effect of 


1 Eno, “Pro Session - Part I,” 57. 

2 Brian Eno, “Pro Session: The Studio as Compositional Tool - Part I,” lecture delivered at 
New Music New York, the first New Music America Festival sponsored in 1979 by the 
Kitchen, excerpted by Howard Mandel, Down Beat 50 (July 1983), 56. “Part II” of this lecture 
appeared in the next issue of Down Beat (Aug. 1983). 


63 



this on the composer is that he can think in terms of supplying material 
that would actually be too subtle for a first listening . 3 

Eno’s history of recording touches on other philosophical points, some of which we have al- 
ready dealt with: recording makes music available to any location that has playback equip- 
ment, the early emphasis on faithful reproduction of musical performances has yielded to a 
realization that the medium has its own unique potentials, the development of magnetic tape 
was decisive in the sense that it made the recorded sound vastly more manipulable, through 
the possibilities of splicing, looping, reversing, and variable-speed playing, and the develop- 
ment of multi-track recording and mixing makes possible whole new ranges of use and abuse. 
While many recordings today still have as their purported purpose the most faithful possible 
reproduction of a musical performance, Eno’s emphasis is always on innovative ways the con- 
temporary composer can approach the new technology should he choose to do so. What Eno 
calls “in-studio composition” is the result of the multi-track idea “that composition is the 
process of adding more.” With in-studio composition,” 

you no longer come to the studio with a conception of the finished 
piece. Instead, you come with actually rather a bare skeleton of the 
piece, or perhaps with no starting point. Once you become familiar 
with studio facilities, or even if you’re not, actually, you can begin to 
compose in relation to those facilities. You can begin to think in terms 
of putting something on, putting something else on, trying this on top 
of it, and so on, then taking some of the original things off, or taking a 
mixture of things off, and seeing what you’re left with - actually con- 
structing a piece in the studio . 4 5 

Eno makes much of the “transmission losses” from composer to score, score to performers, 
and performers to audience, and inasmuch as his records sound the same every time they’re 
played, while Beethoven’s symphonies do not, he has a point. Perhaps, however, Eno’s as- 
sumption that any given record of his “is going to be the same every time it’s played”’ under- 
estimates the significant differences in playback equipment on which his records are played. 
Having heard Eno pieces on several different sets of speakers in different rooms, as well as 


3 Eno, “Pro Session - Part I,” 56. The idea that recording is solely responsible for the spatiali- 
zation of music is debatable. A recent pointed scholarly exchange in the pages of 19th Cen- 
tury > Music revolved around the issue of whether or not it is valid to view the tonal structure of 
Verdi’s operas as existing on an ideal, “spatial” plane outside the temporal plane of actual 
performance and perceived, heard, local modulations. Whatever side one favors in that de- 
bate, it is probably true that the debate itself could not arise with reference to music that has 
not been notated: in the case of the Verdi operas, it is the score that takes music out of the 
time dimension and puts it into the space dimension, or at least makes it much more suscepti- 
ble to “spatial perception” and structural tonal analysis. Music notation has perhaps always 
had this sort of spatializing effect, but it is interesting that the linear vs. spatial debate has 
arisen only since the advent of sound recording. See Sigmund Levarie, “Key Relations in 
Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera ,” 19th Century Music 2 (1978), 143-7, Joseph Kerman, 
“Viewpoint,” 19th Century Music 2 (1978), 186-91, and Levarie’s reply to Kerman, 19th Cen- 
tury Music 3 (1979), 88-9. 

4 Eno, “Pro Session - Part I,” 57. 

5 Eno, “Pro Session - Part I,” 57. 


64 



through variouskinds of headphones, I can attest to hearing quite different balances, frequency 
spectrums, and relationships between elements in the different “performances” of the same 
piece, manipulation of the playback amplifier’s tone controls or graphic equalizer likewise 
surely constitutes a kind of “transmission loss.” These transmission losses, to be sure, are of a 
different, more subtle type than those involved along the traditional composer-performer- 
audience path. 

Eno composes onto tape, the traditional composer composes onto paper. But how different, 
really, is in-studio composition from traditional on-paper composition? Could it not be argued 
that the traditional composer has an equal opportunity to do his work “empirically,” adding 
parts, erasing them, tiying out different combinations at leisure? The recent vogue of musico- 
logical sketch studies attests to the empirical working methods of many composers. Com- 
poser-conductors like Gustav Mahler have indeed even used their orchestras as a sort of play- 
back facility, changing their scores having once heard what the results sounded like. To this 
extent, Eno’s claim that he is working with an entirely new way of composing seems a bit 
extreme, or a bit naive, and it is entirely possible that, having had no experience with music 
notation himself, he underestimates the degree to which a traditional composer can hear his 
score in his inner ear as he writes it out. 

In spite of such reservations, we must acknowledge that Eno’s claim for the different quality 
of in-studio composition is not entirely without substance, as regards the production of popu- 
lar music in general and even more as regards Eno’s own work. As he said in the second part 
of his lecture, “many different rock records, in my opinion, are predicated not on a structure, 
or a melodic line, or a rhythm, but on a sound, this is why studios and producers keep putting 
their names on records, because they have a lot to do with that aspect of the work.” 6 In rock, 
the same band playing the same songs in the same arrangements may sound completely dif- 
ferent when recorded by two different producers, harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic analysis 
would reveal nothing about this difference, which however might be the difference between a 
hit record and a flop. As the complexity of the recording process has increased, the producer 
has become a vitally necessary link between the artist and the technology. 

In his solo music, Eno has combined the roles of composer, lyricist, arranger, producer, engi- 
neer, instrumentalist, and singer, his taking on the responsibility of all of these functions has 
given him a control over the product rare in either the classical or popular music worlds. But 
the most important point to be made in connection with Eno’s concept of in-studio composi- 
tion is that Eno’s music - his progressive rock to some degree, and his ambient music to a 
very great extent - is a music in which timbre and sound-texture are accorded an extremely 
high level of importance. Much of the meaning of Eno’s music hinges on very subtle factors 
having to do with the vertical spectrum of tone color, the exact hues of a sound, down to al- 
most imperceptible shifts in overtone structure, are for Eno the substance of the music itself. 
Seen in this perspective, his claim to be working in an “empirical way that the classical com- 
poser never was” makes sense. Much has been made of the expansion of the timbral palette by 
nineteenth- and twentieth-century composers working with new combinations of traditional 
orchestral instruments, with new additions to the orchestra or smaller ensemble, and occa- 
sionally with newly-invented instruments. Eno and other electronic composers, however, cre- 
ate the sounds as they work, and indeed have a control over the timbral aspect of music that 


6 Eno, “Pro Session - Part II,” 50. 


65 



the traditional composer writing for instruments does not. One might say that whereas most 
Western art music is a music of notes, intervals, and rhythms, Eno’s is a music of timbres and 
textures, rather than being a matter of working with a limited and fixed set of instrumental 
colors that are applied to musical (melodic, harmonic, formal) ideas, Eno’s compositional 
process consists to a large extent in exploring the properties of sound itself. A traditional 
composer writing an orchestral work may begin by making a piano score that he subsequently 
orchestrates, Eno would see this procedure as working backwards, since he often experiments 
with tone colors in the studio until themes, forms, and other musical elements suggest them- 
selves. In 1979 he said: 

People think that you sit at home and you have a melody and the chord 
sequence in mind, and then you think, “Well, what instruments would 
be good for this?” You know, that kind of idea of having a goal, which 
you then build towards. I don’t think anyone works like that, or very 
rarely. Sometimes there will be a melody at the beginning, or a particu- 
lar rhythmic configuration, but generally there’s a sense of, “Well, I’m 
going to set this process in motion. Where will it lead me? And fur- 
thermore, do I like where it leads me?” Because if you don’t, you 
abandon it, you start again . 7 8 

Although the traditional composer may experiment with timbral qualities to some extent, and 
may not know exactly what his piece is going to sound like until he has finished writing it or 
until it is played, it is probably fair to say that in the “serious” musical world such uncertainty 
tends to be frowned upon, regarded as a sign of insufficient technique: one is supposed to 
have a clear idea of where one is going from the outset, and the compositional task is to get 
this idea down on paper as accurately as possible. Eno, on the other hand, transforms the “un- 
certainty principle” into an integral part of his total method: 

Each thing you add modifies the whole set of things that went before 
and you suddenly find yourself at a place that you couldn’t possibly 
have conceived of, a place that’s strange and curious to you. That 

sense of mystery, learning to live with it and make use of it, is ex- 

8 

tremely important. 

In 1981 Eno offered a metaphor to describe the difference between his in-studio composi- 
tional approach and that of the traditional composer. The traditional composer works like a 
modern architect planning a building, “specifying all the dimensions and all the materials and 
where all the pipes go.” The empirical in-studio composer, on the other hand, gets hold of a 
few bricks and maybe some mud, and just starts building a hut by trial and error, guided by no 
particular plan but by his evolving sense of what the result might be like - an image of the hut 
that may well undergo significant changes by the time it is finished. “Of course modern archi- 
tecture looks the way it does because it has to be done that way. It’s naturally going to look 
extremely regular and inorganic, because you can’t specify an organic thing in advance. It’s 


7 Kurt Loder, “Eno,” Synapse (Jan./Feg. 1979), 24. 

8 McKenna, “Eno,” 42. 


66 



too complex. You couldn’t specify a mud hut with an architect’s drawing. It’s too complex an 
entity.” 9 

In the second part of his lecture “The Studio As Compositional Tool,” Eno describes some of 
the components that can be expected to be found in the modern recording studio. The twenty- 
four-track tape recorder, with its twenty-four sets of recording and playback heads, and its 
massive, two-inch wide reels of tape, is one of the main pieces of equipment. If one is making 
a live recording of a rock band, every instrument and vocal part can be recorded on a separate 
track, frequently, drums come in for particularly elaborate miking, with separate microphones 
on the bass dram, snare drum, high hat, and so on. “You can end up with this two-inch piece 
of tape with 24 distinct signals, and once you’re in this position, you have considerable free- 
dom of what you can do with each of these sounds.” 10 

Recording is only the first step, the next step is mixing, in which the producer decides on the 
overall balance of sound that is desirable, and makes decisions on how to mix the twenty-four 
recorded channels onto two-track (stereo) tape. As Eno has said, “The mixer is really the cen- 
tral part of the studio”: 11 it is the large “board” with as many as nine hundred knobs in neatly 
arranged rows. Each row of knobs controls one of the twenty-four recorded tracks, and with 
these knobs, it is possible to control, individually for each track: the volume, the “pan,” or 
where the sound will be located (anywhere from far left to far right) in the final stereo image, 
the degree of echo (for Eno, echo is a particularly important element, for “it enables you to 
locate something in an artificial acoustic space”); 12 the equalization, or balance between high 
and low frequencies of the recorded sound (it is possible to bring out or suppress the strength 
of the sound in any of the audible frequency bands, each being typically about an octave in 
extent), the compression (when a sound signal is compressed, its loud parts will sound softer 
and its soft parts will sound louder - compression is typically used when one wants to hear all 
the nuances of a particular track, nuances that would be otherwise lost against the dynamic 
level of the other tracks), and the limiting (a limiter is a kind of envelope shaper, capable of 
altering the attack, sustain, and decay characteristics of the input sound). 

Use of this array of controls on each track varies from producer to producer, from group to 
group, from record to record. Sometimes a producer’s characteristic settings will be a well- 
kept secret. More and more, producers are hired for the particular kinds of sound they are able 
to coax out of the mixing board, with the producer’s know-how, a raw garage band can be 
made to yield music of the utmost delicacy or pomp, of minimalistic or symphonic propor- 
tions. Of course, if an “ audio verite ” approach is deemed appropriate, that is still possible 
too. 1 ’ But for composer/producers like Eno, control over the mixing board provides a practi- 
cally infinite number of sound-controlling possibilities, from a subtle echo enhancing a par- 
ticular track to radically altered tonal spectrums and sound envelopes - to the point where the 


1 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 


Aikin, 

Aikin, 


‘Brian Eno, 
‘Brian Eno, 


59. 

’59. 

’59. 


" Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 59. 

13 Robert Fripp produced an album by the guitar and vocal group the Roches in what he called 
audio verite. The effect is that of a sparkling, well-balanced live performance. The Roches, 
The Roches, Warner Brothers BSK 3298, 1979. 


67 



original instrumental sound source is often unidentifiable. As he has put it, the controls on the 
mixing board “allow you to rearrange the priorities of the music in a large number of ways.” 14 

The result of the mixing process is a two-channel stereo tape that is then taken to the pressing 
plant, at which point it leaves the in-studio composer’s control. In producing the final stereo 
mix, Eno tries the music out on at least two sets of speakers - usually medium-priced speakers 
that are likely to resemble those used by most of the record’s buyers in their homes. As he 
says, “It’s the very naive producer who works only on optimum systems.” 15 

In his lecture Eno points out some large trends in the history of the use of the mixing board. In 
the 1950s, producers tended to mix melodic information very loudly, while putting the rhyth- 
mic information in the background, the bass line is frequently all but inaudible. “As time goes 
on you’ll find this spectrum, which was very wide, with vocals way up there and the bass 
dram way down there, beginning to compress, until at the beginning of funk it is very narrow, 
indeed. Things are all about equally loud.” 16 And, as we have already seen, Eno credits groups 
like Sly and the Family Stone with actually reversing the 1950s concept of sound-priorities: 
on Sly’s records, “the rhythm instruments, particularly the bass dram and bass, suddenly be- 
come the important instalments in the mix.” 17 

When Eno entered the realm of the modern twenty-four-track recording studio, he had al- 
ready had many years of experience with tape recorders, which had always exercised a 
“magical” influence over his imagination. Having wanted one since he was “tiny,” 18 he finally 
got access to one at age fifteen: 

I knew it was something I’d never get bored with and I never did. It’s 
still magic to me. By the time I was 20 I had 30 tape recorders. Each 
had its own characteristic. I’d just collect any piece of rubbish I could 
find that would turn a piece of tape. Each machine could do something 
interesting, specific to one task. For example the motor might not be 
stable so the sound would oscillate. Only one worked properly. 19 

I thought it was magic to be able to catch something identically on 

tape and then be able to play around with it, run it backwards, I 

20 

thought that was great for years." 

In 1973, Eno said: 

Nothing I’ve ever done with a tape recorder is brilliant ... it’s just ob- 
vious if you think of what the true function of a tape recorder is - if 
you think of it as an automatic musical collage device. 21 


14 Eno, “Pro Session - Part II,” 50. 

15 Eno, “Pro Session - Part II,” 53. 

16 Eno, “Pro Session - Part II,” 50. 

17 Eno, “Pro Session - Part II,” 50. 

18 Bangs, “Eno,” 42. 

19 Michael Zwerin, “Brian Eno: Music Existing in Space,” International Herald Tribune, 14 
Sept. 1983, 7. 

20 Bangs, “Eno,” 42. 

21 Brown, “Eno’s Where It’s At,” 41. 


68 



Few people would speak of the “true function of a tape recorder” as “an automatic musical 
collage device.” But inspired by a powerful personal vision of the untapped potential of this 
piece of technology, Eno built his “non-musician”‘s career around it. 

Of musical instillments proper, the one Eno has probably played more than any other is the 
synthesizer. Although voltage-control synthesizers had been commercially available since the 
mid-1960s, Eno had never laid hands on one until he was called in by Roxy Music in 1971 to 
make some demo tapes for them. A synthesizer was sitting in the room, and Eno began to fool 
around with it, the sounds he produced were so impressive that the band asked him to join on 
the spot. As he has said, “I’m very good with technology. I always have been, and with ma- 
chines in general. They seem to me not threatening like other people find them, but a source 
of great fun and amusement, like grown up toys really.” 22 

Since Eno is among the most acclaimed synthesizer players in rock, interviewers have often 
asked him about his equipment and about the vast array of synthesizers available for the mod- 
ern musician to choose from. He often claims to know actually very little about the field, and 
what he says on the subject is frequently in the form of an argument for the virtues of “low” 
technology - inexpensive synthesizers with a limited number of features, as opposed to state- 
of-the-art machines like the Synclavier or Fairlight. This appears to be a deliberate strategy on 
his part to limit the possibilities with which he is faced, and to develop as complete an under- 
standing as possible of the instalments he works with. He appears to experience genuine re- 
vulsion with respect to the unthinking, unlistening more-is-better approach that seduces so 
many contemporary musicians who use electronics. In 1983, he said: 

I’ve been moving more in the direction of very low technology - 
found objects and other things that have some kind of interesting in- 
herent sound to them - just anything lying around, really. I spend a lot 
of time around Canal Street [a long stretch of junk shops and flea mar- 
kets located in downtown New York] hitting things and listening to 
what this little bolt might sound like or this metal pot or whatever. As 
for high technology, all of the work I’ve heard from those machines 
[the Synclavier and Fairlight] is so unbelievably awful to me. Boring 
things like yet another synthesizer version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons 

'j'l 

... who needs it?" 

The main synthesizers Eno has worked with are the EMS Model AKS, Yamaha CS-80, Ya- 
maha DX7, Arp 2600, Korg Micropreset, and Yamaha YC-45D organ. 24 The EMS was Eno’s 
workhorse in the 1970s and early 1980s. He found it extremely flexible on account of the fact 


22 Bangs, Lester, “Eno,” 42. For information on synthesizers - what they are and what they 
can do - see the articles “Synthesizer” and “Electro-acoustic music” in Don Randel, The New 
Harvard Dictionary’ of Music (Cambridge, Mass, and London: Belknap/Harvard University 
Press, 1986). The latter article includes a bibliography. Also useful and informative are Greg 
Armbruster, ed., The Art of Electronic Music (New York: Quill/Keyboard, 1985, and Bob 
Doerschuk, Rock Keyboard (New York: Quill/Keyboard, 1985). 

23 Milkowski, “Eno: Excursions,” 15. 

24 Eno has used the Arp 2600 only once in his recorded music, in making Music for Airports. 
The Minimoog is “a very old one - one of the first ones they made, I suspect.” Aikin, “Brian 
Eno,” 45. 


69 



that it allows the user to set up any desired signal path: the standard path of the signal from 
oscillator to filter to envelope shaper, which is fixed on many synthesizers, could be bypassed 
completely, and a variety of unusual patches set up. Eno enjoyed using the EMS’s joystick, 
and also lauded the machine for the versatility of its controls, which enable the musician to 
adjust each function by potentiometer knobs, rather than simple on-off switches. The Yamaha 
CS-80 was one of the first polyphonic synthesizers (capable of producing more than one note 
at a time) on the commercial market, and Eno admired it for its simplicity: “It’s perfect for 
me. I’d rather have six beautiful sounds from a synthesizer than a possible infinity of medio- 
cre sounds.” 25 

By 1985 Eno had gotten a Yamaha DX7 and was calling it his favorite synthesizer. The DX7 
is a completely digital synthesizer, meaning the sounds are produced and manipulated not by 
variations in an electrical current (as in analog synthesis) but rather by computerized mathe- 
matical operations on numbers in binary code. The commercial success of digital sound syn- 
thesis technology has been one of the big stories in the music industry of the 1980s, for the 
digital method offers cleaner sound and potentially more precise control for the musician than 
earlier analog systems. Learning to program, or create, one’s own original sounds on a digital 
synthesizer like the DX7, however, is notoriously difficult, and as Eno notes, many musicians 
simply use the factory-preset sounds that come with the instrument. For Eno, the instrument 
opened up a new world of tone color to investigate: “I would be doing things on the DX7 and 
1 would notice that certain number relationships were interesting. So then I started getting 
books about acoustics to find out what I was doing, and how that related to ordinary instru- 
ments.” 26 

Eno’s method of getting to know his electronic equipment is unorthodox, simple, and creative: 

With devices my technique is always to hide the handbook in the 
drawer until I’ve played with it for a while. The handbook always tells 
you what it does, and you can be quite sure that if it’s a complex de- 
vice it can do at least fifteen other things that weren’t predicted in the 
handbook, or that they didn’t consider desirable. It’s normally those 

97 

other things that interest me. 

This slightly irreverent attitude towards technology’s cornucopia extends to the matter of get- 
ting his machines serviced. By and large, Eno does not: 

I know a lot of people are into the inhuman cleanness of a synthesizer, 
but I don’t like that, and I subvert it number one by laziness: I never 


25 Milkowski, Bill, “Eno: Excursions,” 15. 

26 Jensen, “Sound of Silence,” 24. 

27 Glenn O’Brien, “Eno at the Edge of Rock,” Andy Warhol’s Interview 8 (June 1978), 32. 
Handbooks and owners manuals do indeed often steer the electronic musician toward certain 
limited options sanctioned by the well-intentioned manufacturers. For instance, the operating 
guide that comes with a Peavey KB-300 keyboard amplifier says with regard to the mid-range 
equalization control: “CAUTION MUST BE EXERCISED IN ORDER TO AVOID OVER- 
BOOSTING OR OVERCUTTING THE MID-RANGE. Experience has proven that, for most 
applications, a very slight mid-range cut tends to produce a ‘tight’ and well-defined sound. 
Generally, large amounts of mid-range boost are extremely unpleasant and probably will 
never be used except for special effects.” 


70 



get my instruments serviced, so they start to become a little bit more 
idiosyncratic, and I also use a lot of auxiliary equipment, which I also 
don’t get serviced. Now this sounds flippant, this not getting things 
serviced. I actually do get things serviced sometimes, but a lot of the 
faults that develop are rather interesting, so I leave those alone . 28 

For Eno, synthesizers have three main functions. The first involves using the machine as a 
conventional keyboard instrument: he programs it to produce a certain tone color, and then 
plays melodies or chords on the organ-like keyboard controller. The second function is to pro- 
duce “non-musical” sounds, that is, sounds of which steady tone or pitch is not a primary 
characteristic, such sounds range from whooshing, wind- and ocean-like effects based on fil- 
tered and otherwise altered white noise, a vast array of percussive sounds, a similarly vast 
array of complex, muffled yet punctuated background-type sounds, to a variety of variably 
life-like and mechanical-sounding “animal and insect noises, at which I’m now, I’m sure, the 
world specialist.” 29 The synthesizer’s third function for Eno is to control and alter the sound- 
output of other instruments, whether electric or acoustic. The signal path in a synthesizer 
normally starts with its own tone or noise generator, and can be channeled through various 
circuits that alter the signal, but by bypassing the tone or noise generators, a signal can be fed 
in from an outside sound source, which can then be “treated” like the synthesizer’s own. This 
sort of processing is one of the most exciting things about the synthesizer for Eno. He has 
explained that in effect, 

what you do is create a new instrument. You create an instrument that 
has all of the interesting idiosyncracies of a natural instrument, but 
also some of the special features of a synthesizer ... When I’m re- 
cording I nearly always have something going through the EMS. It’s a 
way of giving a character to the track, from a very early stage, that 
takes it away from being just another bass and drums and blah, blah, 
blah . 30 

Eno has a paradoxical relationship to technology. While he seems to exult in the fact that he 
could not be a composer without it, he levels much of his harshest criticism againt other musi- 
cians who use it, and sometimes against the machines themselves. In 1981 he complained that 
synthesizers lacked “a sound that is idiosyncratic enough to be interesting.” This has been a 
common lament among musicians ever since the development of the synthesizer. It is difficult 
to match electronically, for instance, the subtlety and complexity of an acoustic piano tone 
color, which is slightly different for every note of the keyboard. Instruments made out of natu- 
ral materials like wood have quirks that synthesizer designers have taken pains to eliminate. 
“A guitar sounds slightly different at each fret, and it has oddities, which are undoubtedly a 
large part of the interest of the instrument. A good player will understand and make use of 
those oddities.” 31 


28 Aikin, “Brian Eno ”48. 

29 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 50. 

30 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 50. 

31 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 48. 


71 



Similarly paradoxical is what Eno the “non-musician” has said about the need for synthesizers 
that are more responsive to the physical activity of the player. In spite of the low premium he 
places on the manual craft of musicianship, he wishes synthesizer designers would exercise 
more imagination in coming up with ways for enhancing the physical player-instrument inter- 
face, for instance with pedals, touch-sensitive keyboards, joysticks, control wheels, and possi- 
bly other, as yet unimagined devices. 32 Thus while he has expounded an elaborate philosophy 
relating to his lack of digital dexterity, some sort of direct physical contact with his instru- 
ments is an important part of the music-making process for him. 

If Eno values the controls of the mixing board and the synthesizer for the infinite variety of 
sounds they are capable of producing, he occasionally needs the solace and simplicity of tradi- 
tional instruments. In 1978, exhausted after the grueling process of making Before and After 
Science , the weary Eno told an interviewer: “I have a guitar that makes only one sound. It’s 
refreshing to play. With a synthesizer you have 14,000 choices. Sometimes it’s nice to know 
that the instrument has made that decision for you.” 33 

Although one might imagine that Eno would have experimented with many different kinds of 
electric guitar, he has been content to limit the range of his options by using a single one con- 
sistently throughout the 1970s, getting to know its unique and evolving characteristics inti- 
mately. It was a small Starway model, and Eno deliberately let it deteriorate gradually over 
the years: he never changed the strings, and when the top one broke he decided not to replace 
it. The older the remaining five strings got, the more closely their sound approximated that of 
a pure sine wave, and consequently “the more I could do with the sound afterwards,” running 
it through synthesizers, fuzz boxes, and do on. 34 

By 1983 Eno was using mostly a Fernandez guitar, a copy of a 1957 Fender Stratocaster 35 
(Stratocasters have been among the most popular models with rock guitarists since the 1950s), 
and he also has a 1963 Gibson bass guitar. He uses the guitar primarily as a kind of synthe- 
sizer and mixing-board controller, analogous to the keyboard controllers that most synthesiz- 
ers come equipped with. Thus Eno employs the electric guitar not as an instrument with an 
essential, characteristic tone color of its own - the closer his Starway got to producing the 
bland, faceless tones of a sine wave oscillator, the better - but as a physical interface with his 
larger “instrument,” the whole synthesizer-recording studio complex. 

Other important components of Eno’s mega-instrument are the innumerable electronic boxes 
or devices that can be added to a circuit, usually between the guitar or keyboard and amplifier, 
to alter the tone color and sound envelope characteristics. Typical effects to be got from these 
linking machines include echo, reverb, (intentional) distortion, flange, phase shift, chorus, and 
wah-wah. Some of these effects can also be produced at the mixing board, but it often makes 
a difference where in the total electronic circuit the sound-altering device is located: echoed 
fizz may have a different sound profile than fuzzed echo. Possibilities multiply, as Eno has 
said, 


32 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 50. 

33 Arthur Lubow, “Eno, Before and After Roxy,” New Times 10 (6 March 1978), 73. 

34 Bangs, “Eno,” 40. The fact that Eno was habitually cut by the top string probably indicates 
that he never played enough guitar to build up calluses. 

35 Milkowski, “Eno: Excursions,” 17. 


72 



The whole point of using effects devices is to try to reintroduce those 
idiosyncracies into the sound, to take the sound out of the realm of the 
perfect and into the realm of the real. I’ll put any amount of junk in a 
long line after my synthesizer to see what will happen to it [the 
sound ]. 36 

Where possible, Eno likes to work with devices that make use of a foot-pedal - again, to give 
him a sense of physical control. He has no standard “line of junk” - his configurations of 
sound-altering devices are always changing. He sees graphic equalization as being “totally 
essential” in most of the circuits he puts together, echo effects are almost as important, and he 
is liable to use two or even three echo devices at once, normally at the end of the chain nearest 
to the tape recorder. 37 Echo and reverb are in a sense in a different class than other effects, 
since they create the illusion of the physical space where the music is taking place. The same 
instillment can be made to sound as if it is located in a small room, a large room, a concert 
hall, a stone cathedral, or even the Grand Canyon. Echo and reverb effects “can evoke a 
whole geography.” 38 

Diagram 1 (see following page) may make the whole studio complex easier to visualize. In 
this hypothetical recording situation, four sound sources (voice, electric guitar, piano, and 
rhythm box) are sent through different chains of timbre-altering equipment, recorded on 24- 
track tape, and finally mixed down to the stereo version the listener will ultimately hear. 


36 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 50. 

37 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 50. Some of Eno’s specific equipment: Lexicon Prime Time, Lexicon 
224 digital reverb, Lexicon EMT 250 digital reverb, Roland 501 echo unit. Project WEM fuzz 
box. See list of “Brian Eno’s Equipment,” Milkowski, “Eno: Excursions,” 17. 

38 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 55. 


73 



Diagram 1 : 

Flow of Electronic Signals 
in a Hypothetical Studio Situation 

SOUND 

SOURCES 

Voice 

Electirc 

Guitar 

Piano 

Electronic 

Rhythm 

Generator 




Cardboard 

Tube 



Microphone 


Microphone 



Synthesizer 
(alters vo- 
cal timbre) 

Chorusing 

Device 

Graphic 

Equalizer 

Echo/ 
Delay De- 
vice 

TIMBRAL 

ALTERATION 

Wah-wah 

Pedal 

Reverb/ 
Delay De- 
vice 





Fuzz/ 

Distortion 

Deice 



Timbrally altered signals stored on tape through 
2 4 -TRACK TAPE RECORDER 

MIXING CONSOLE 

Additional opportunity for timbral manipulation of individual 

tracks : 

echo, equalization, compression, limiting, etc.; 
volume and pan (location in stereo image) of each track 
individually adjustable 

Final mix stored on tape through 
2-TRACK (STEREO) TAPE RECORDER 


Although certain timbres recur from time to time in Eno’s music, many of his electronic 
sound-producing chains are unique: constructed empirically, they are dismantled after being 
put to a particular use. If the chain is important enough, he will remember it, but he has been 
reluctant to fix such chains in writing, for fear of stultifying his creativity. “I made a rule very 
early on, which I’ve kept to, which was that I would never write down any setting that I got 


74 





on the synthesizer, no matter how fabulous a sound I got ... If I had a stock of fabulous sounds 
I would just always use them, I wouldn’t bother to find new ones.” 39 

Thus specifications for many of the total circuits Eno has used to produce his dazzling array 
of timbres are apparently lost forever, the exact process is gone, but the product remains. Of- 
ten his complex chains of sound-producing and -altering equipment include multiple instru- 
ments and electronic devices that interact in unpredictable ways. He describes one such situa- 
tion that arose when he was working in a studio in Canada with producer Daniel Lanois. The 
studio happened to contain a Fender Rhodes electric piano and a rattly old amplifer/speaker. 
Eno put the speaker on the piano’s sustain pedal so that all the notes were free to ring, fitted a 
long plastic tube onto a microphone which was plugged into the speaker, then experimented 
by playing various notes at the keyboard: 

One note - just one note - made the whole system come to life. It 
made the speaker shake with a beautiful purring sound, like a huge 
foghorn. The piano was ringing away, and the pick-up through the tube 
particularly resonated around that frequency and all the harmonics . 40 

Systems of Composing 

Although when he gets to the studio he may work in an empirical way, without much con- 
scious idea of what is going to happen next, general ideas for projects take shape in Eno’s 
imagination over fairly long periods of time, and it seems he is constantly toying with a multi- 
tude of ideas about creative situations, many of which never come to fruition. In a sense, the 
first steps in the compositional process involve the decision to work on a piece in a general 
way, the decision whether or not to use other musicians to generate raw material, and a some 
concept of the form of the final product - through the 1970s and early 1980s, normally a re- 
cord album. 

Eno has a reputation for being extremely busy all the time, even when not in the studio, he is 
likely to be experimenting with instruments and tape recorders at home, tapping and banging 
on found objects to see what they sound like, or recording environmental noises on a portable 
cassette recorder. The vast majority of the music he has made has never been released on re- 
cord, in 1983 he estimated that he had about seven hundred pieces stored away on tape, some 
of which he’d made alone, some of which were leftovers from studio sessions with other mu- 
sicians. “People would probably be surprised to know my own rejection rate of my work. I 
must produce a hundred times the amount of music I release.” 41 Evidently putting sounds on 
tape is far from enough, judgement has to intervene at some stage of the game. One reason 
Eno saves so many of his sketches, however, is that he is aware that his judgement may 
change at some point in the future, or that his ear will pick up something on an old tape of 
which he had not been aware at the time: “Later on you may suddenly realize that there was a 
secret concern that you weren’t consciously dealing with, but which actually dominates the 
piece, and that concern might be the most interesting one.” On the other hand, “Sometimes I 


39 Bangs, “Eno,” 42. 

40 Grant, “Eno Against Interpretation,” 29. 

41 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 58. 


75 



do things and I know they’re just absolute crap. There’s no point in wasting storage space 
with those, so those go.” 42 In some sense, then, composing is a near-constant process for Eno 
- a process that is not always suffused with inspiration. In 1985 he said: 

It’s a practice of some kind ... It quite frequently happens that you’re 
just treading water for quite a long time. Nothing really dramatic 
seems to be happening. It’s not terribly miserable. It is occasionally for 
me, but not very often. And then suddenly everything seems to lock 
together in a different way. It’s like a crystallization point where you 
can’t detect any single element having changed. There’s a proverb that 
says that the fruit takes a long time to ripen, but it falls suddenly ... 

And that seems to be the process . 43 

Moments of true inspiration are rare, and their arrival cannot be predicted, Eno has been no 
more successful than others in trying to coerce his muse to speak to him, but he has found it 
worthwhile, during the long periods of the muse’s silence, to maintain a state of preparedness: 

The point about working is not to produce great stuff all the time, but 
to remain ready for when you can. There’s no point in saying, “I don’t 
have an idea today, so I’ll just smoke some drugs.” You should stay 
alert for the moment when a number of things are just ready to collide 
with one another. 

A lot of factors go toward creating a work: technological considera- 
tions that suddenly are a little exciting to you, some feeling or mood, a 
nice day, you just had a talk with a friend. All sorts of things will coin- 
cide - and that moment doesn’t last for long. It’s like things in orbit, 
they’ll move away again. 

The reason to keep working is almost to build a certain mental tone, 
like people talk about body tone. You have to move quickly when the 
time comes, and the time might come very infrequently - once or 

i 44 

twice a year, or even less. 

For Eno, then, there is much that can be done at a conscious, day-to-day level to enhance 
one’s chances of coming up with good creative work. In 1980 he stated his belief that imagi- 
nation and the ability to think independently were things that “you can work at developing,” 
mentioning that he’d read several books by Edward DeBono and William J.J. Gordon on the 
subject of ways of prompting creativity. Eno contends that “the process of creating isn’t 
largely spontaneous: “There are lots of ways that you can interfere with it and make it more 
efficient.” 45 Although Eno’s music does not depend on a high level of instrumental musician- 
ship, his conceptual and practical mastery of the resources of the recording studio and the 


42 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 58. 

43 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 106. 

44 Grant, “Eno Against Interpretation,” 30. 

45 McKenna, “Eno,” 42. 


76 



synthesizer constitute a different kind of craft. He puts it succinctly: craft “enables you to be 
successful when you’re not inspired.” 46 

Eno is unusually aware of the ebb and flow of his creative energies, and often does specific 
things in order to influence them one way or the other, such as taking a break from a taxing 
project: 

The difficulty of always feeling that you ought to be doing Something 
is that you tend to undervalue the times when you’re apparently doing 
nothing, and those are very important times. It’s the equivalent of the 
dream time, in your daily life, times when things get sorted out and re- 
shuffled. If you’re constantly awake workwise you don’t allow that to 
happen. One of the reasons I have to take distinct breaks when I work 
is to allow the momentum of a particular direction to run down, so that 
another one can establish itself . 47 

Even with the application of various techniques of promoting the creative process, it is a day- 
to-day struggle: 

There are some days when my confidence level is so high that I can 
make anything work. Particularly if you work without a group, as I do, 
you really need a lot of energy to push something through those first 
stages, where it’s just a rhythm box going “bump-titta” and a piano go- 
ing “dum, dum, dum.” I mean, that doesn’t sound terribly interesting, 
so maintaining the conviction to keep going, in the hope, or in the trust 
that it’s going to turn into something does require a lot of application. 

48 

And some days I just don’t have that. 

The sensation of being engaged in an interesting process, and the attitude of expectant atten- 
tion as to where it might lead, are central to Eno’s experience of composition. He occasionally 
puts the whole matter in simple terms: “Nearly all the things I do that are of any merit at all 
start off as just being good fun.” 49 As for specific methods of composing, or making individ- 
ual pieces of music, his most systematic statement on the subject was in 1978, when he out- 
lined five distinct approaches. The first involves keeping a microcassette tape recorder on 
hand at all times and recording any stray ideas that hit him out of the blue - a melody, a 
rhythm, a verbal phrase. Periodically, Eno will browse through the thousands of fragments to 
“see if any of them fit together.” Those that do may be worked into a preliminary “demo” and 
stored in his tape library for future use. The second approach is entering the recording studio 
with no particular ideas, taking stock of the available instmments and equipment, and perhaps 
hiring a couple of instmments he has a yen to use. “Then 1 just dabble with sounds until some- 
thing starts to happen that suggests a texture.” At some point in this process, the overall 
sound-texture may suddenly suggest a geographical location or evoke a childhood scene to 


46 Grant, “Eno Against Interpretation,” 30. 

47 McKenna, “Eno,” 44. 

48 Loder, “Eno,” 24. 

49 Bangs, “Eno,” 43. 


77 



Eno, and from that point on the image gains the upper hand in guiding the development of the 
composition. 

A third way of working is from deliberate non-musical constraints, for instance by saying, 
“Well, this piece is going to be three minutes and nineteen seconds long and it’s going to have 
changes here, here and here, and there’s going to be a convolution of events here, and there’s 
going to be a very fast rhythm here with a very slow moving part over the top of it.” Some- 
times Eno uses graph paper when working like this, since it tends to be a visual process for 
him. The fourth approach is the kind that typified the studio sessions for his progressive rock 
albums: Eno would “gather together a group of musicians who wouldn’t normally work to- 
gether” and generate ideas from the unexpected interactions between them. Finally, Eno says 
he has “also worked from very mathematical and structural bases, but in general that hasn’t 
been so successful.” 5 

When asked in 1985 what his first steps were in beginning a piece, Eno approached the issue 
from a somewhat different angle, outlining three forms of motivation. The first is practical: if 
he has accepted a commision, for instance, he has to start worrying about the piece because he 
is obliged to. “The second is arriving at it from an intellectual position of considering what 
I’ve done, sifting through and rearranging it, and trying to include more. That’s designing a 
piece of work and saying this is the kind of method I’m going to use.” The third way to initi- 
ate work on a piece is to play around with something specific, whether that be something con- 
crete like a new piece of equipment or a more abstract entity like a particular modal scale. 51 

Images of partaking in a natural process - of watering a garden daily, of riding on the dynam- 
ics of the system, of letting oneself be led rather than pushing, of writing music by interfering 
as little as possible - abound in Eno’s discussions of his creative work. Clearly this whole idea 
owes much to Cage and his chance operations, his ideal of letting the sounds be themselves, 
but it stops short of the Cageian ideal of writing music that is completely untainted by history 
and personal psychology, for as we have seen, Eno has quite specific compositional aims, 
specific emotions he wishes to arouse in the listener, specific geographies to evoke. Active 
judgement and discriminating listening are very much part of Eno’s approach, no matter how 
much he simultaneously tries to adopt the attitude of an onlooker. There is an active interac- 
tion with the growing work of art, but in this interaction the artist’s will and aggressively crea- 
tive intentions should not predominate. In most of his creative work, Eno perceives two 
phases, pushing and letting: 

Once phase two begins everything is okay, because then the work 
starts to dictate its own terms. It starts to get an identity which de- 
mands certain future moves. But during the first phase you often find 
that you come to a full stop. You don’t know what to supply. And it’s 

52 

at that stage that I will pull one of the cards out. 


50 O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 31. 

51 Jensen, “Sound of Silence,” 23. 

52 O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 31. 


78 



This brings us to one of Eno’s most curious inventions, the deck of Oblique Strategies, subti- 
tled Over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas. 53 The deck, which Eno developed and produced 
in collaboration with his painter friend Peter Schmidt, is a set of oracle cards modelled phi- 
losophically on the ancient Chinese I Ching or Book of Changes , 54 While still in art school, 
Eno had taken to formulating aphorisms to aid him in the creative process, to give him a new 
perspective on working when he would get bogged down in specific details, unable to main- 
tain a large perspective on what he was doing, and thereby losing a sense of his creative op- 
tions. During the Roxy Music period, he wrote these down on cards he placed around the re- 
cording studio. It subsequently developed that Schmidt had been doing much the same thing, 
with a little notebook he kept for the purpose. When Eno and Schmidt compared notes, it 
turned out that many of their aphorisms were substantially identical. They decided to put the 
aphorisms on stiff paper the size and feel of playing cards and to market a limited edition of 
500 copies in 1975. Several thousand were sold in revised editions of 1978 and 1979, after 
which it was decided not to produce any more. The deck comes in a handsome black card- 
board box with gold-embossed lettering, and contains the following description and instruc- 
tions: 

These cards evolved from our separate observations of the principles 
underlying what we were doing. Sometimes they were recognized in 
retrospect (intellect catching up with intuition), sometimes they were 
identified as they were happening, sometimes they were fonnulated. 

They can be used as a pack (a set of possibilities being continuously 
reviewed in the mind) or by drawing a single card from the shuffled 
pack when a dilemma occurs in a working situation. In this case the 
card is trusted even if its appropriateness is quite unclear. They are not 
final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become 
self-evident. 

The short messages on the cards are varied, evocative, and often intentionally cryptic. Some 
examples, randomly chosen from the deck: “Would anybody want it?” “Go slowly all the way 
round the outside.” “Don’t be afraid of things because they’re easy to do.” “Only a part, not 
the whole.” “Retrace your steps.” “Disconnect from desire.” “You are an engineer.” “Turn it 
upside down.” “Do we need holes?” “Is it finished?” “Don’t break the silence.” “What are 
you really thinking about just now?” 

The aphorisms are remarkably well-crafted in the sense that it is easy to imagine how each 
one is applicable to any stage of or particular problem arising in the course of the creative 
process. Eno consulted the Oblique Strategies extensively in his creative work of the mid- and 
late 1970s, and may have continued to do so into the 1980s, though he has not talked about it 


53 Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilem- 
mas, boxed set of cards, limited edition of 500 copies, London, 1975, revised and reissued, 
London, 1978, 1979. 

54 Cage, of course, had used the I Ching extensively in his own compositional strategies. See 
Charles Hamm, “John Cage,” The New Grove Dictionary’ of Music and Musicians (1980). The 
I Ching itself exists in many versions, see, for example, The I Ching or Book of Changes: The 
Richard Wilhelm Translation Rendered into English by Cary’ F. Baynes, Bollingen Series 19 
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967). 


79 



in interviews in recent years. Random selection of a card and reflection on its message often 
provided fresh and unexpected resolution of a compositional quandary. 

The I Ching was a partial inspiration for the deck of Oblique Strategies, Eno called the latter 
“an attempt to make a set that was slightly more specific, tailored to a more particular situa- 
tion than the I Ching, which is tailored to cosmic situations, though I suppose that with suffi- 
cient skill one could use the I Ching in the same way.” 55 Eno pointed out that it was not neces- 
sary to believe that anything supernatural or paranormal was taking place in the use of the 
Oblique Strategies in order to derive creative benefits from using them: “you can believe that 
they work on a purely behavioral level, simply adjusting your perception at a point, or sug- 
gesting a different perception.” 56 The concept behind the Oblique Strategies fits smoothly into 
Eno’s overall empirical, in-studio compositional approach: the aphorisms enabled him to get 
beyond his linear thinking process, especially in the early, formative stages of a work, and 
provided an aura of a sensation that he was indeed riding on the dynamics of some greater 
system that logic alone could not penetrate. 


Verbal Expression and Lyrics 

As the many quotations from his interviews have demonstrated, Eno is well-practiced and 
accomplished at the art of verbal expresssion. He uses interviews deliberately as opportunities 
to straighten out and refine his thinking in the verbal mode. When he has a point to make, he 
is capable of making it in general, abstract terms, of citing specific pertinent examples, and of 
constructing elaborate, often striking metaphors to illustrate his train of thought. His pub- 
lished essays and lectures offer further proof that Eno knows what verbal logic and exposition 
are all about. When he was called upon to discuss painter Peter Schmidt’s watercolors and his 
own reasons for including them on the cover of his album Before and After Science for the 
journal Arts Review, however, he prefaced his remarks with a disclaimer: 

Because art criticism is a verbal activity, I write with the consciousness 
that my language is being evaluated in that context, and knowing that 
certain words and phrases will assume overtones that were not in- 
tended. I choose to ignore this hazard by reassuring the reader that art- 
criticism is not my primary (or even secondary) occupation in life, and 
that my intention is to write about these works simply, and because I 
want to. I hope that by doing this I can assume a level of trust on the 

57 

part of the reader that might otherwise not be afforded me. 

Even if this boils down to Eno’s nervousness at the prospect of his thoughts appearing in the 
context of a critical journal, it is his “consciousness of the hazard” of his language being mis- 
interpreted or over-interpreted to which I would like to draw attention here. Elsewhere as 
well, Eno has shown signs that he is all too aware of the ways that language, even ordinary 
spoken or written prose, can work on a multitude of levels, not all of which were intended by 


55 O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 31. 

56 O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 31. 

57 Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, “Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno,” Arts Review 29 (9 Dec. 
1977), 737. 


80 



the speaker or writer. This is especially true when it comes to historically, emotionally, and 
conceptually loaded words - big words like “art,” “music,” and “God.” In 1978, after discuss- 
ing what he and others mean by the term “art band,” he said: 

Art - and artist - are words that are very hard to use. I use them all the 
time because I’m not frightened of them anymore. I just decided that 
there’s nothing else to describe what I want to say, so I have to use 
them. But I know, at the same time, that it evokes the most awful ideas 

58 

in other people’s minds - so I use the tenns rather judiciously. 

As we have already noted, “music” is a word that Eno increasingly finds inadequate for the 
products of the recording studio. In 1983 he put it this way: 

I think the word “music” has become difficult to describe. Tradition- 
ally music was written down and given to a conductor, who then trans- 
lated it for the perfonners. It was necessarily ephemeral. Once the per- 
formance was finished it ceased to exist except in code on paper or in 
people’s memory. Now music is anything but ephemeral. When you 
make a record it exists forever and it exists in space . 59 

Eno here cuts to the core of a problem with which ethnomusicologists, scholars of popular 
music, and musicologists concerned with the performance of early music have begun to grap- 
ple over the last few decades. If, as Marhall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message,” 
then when we are dealing with “music” in entirely different mediums - live, written, recorded 
- do we perhaps not need entirely different words for each medium, or different sets of con- 
cepts to understand what message is being presented in each case? Modern recording technol- 
ogy has developed to the point where the sound heard can be “larger than life,” an intensifica- 
tion of reality, in the same sense that a Hollywood film, through quick cuts, panning, music, 
use of multiple locations, slow motion, color distortion or enhancement, and other techniques, 
presents a sequence of events to the viewer that are impossible to duplicate in a theater situa- 
tion with live actors. Music teacher Andrew Buchman of Evergreen State College told an 
amusing anecdote at a conference I attended recently: one of his students, writing a report on 
a live concert, enthused that “the sound was great - almost CD quality!” 

If Eno is wary of the ambiguities of language in ordinary speech and prose, it is precisely such 
ambiguities that he has attempted to exploit in his song lyrics. The idea that in terms of the 
meaning conveyed the sung word stands somewhere between the specificity of the spoken 
word and the abstract emotional language of music is not new, of course. In rock music, the 
first self-conscious experiments in the use of song lyrics for their purely phonetic and evoca- 
tive qualities, rather than for their verbal meanings, were undertaken in the 1960s by Bob Dy- 
lan, many of whose songs, especially on his 1965-6 masterpieces Bringing it All Back Home, 
Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, appeared to be chaotic jumbles of fantastic im- 
ages without much connection to left-brain, linear, linguistic reality. The influence on Dylan 
of the French symbolist poets of the nineteenth century, Rimbaud in particular, and of the 
zen/beat poets of the 1950s like Allen Ginsburg, was more than superficial: for Dylan, such 


58 Moore, “Eno = MC Squared,” 67. 

59 Zwerin, “Eno: Music Existing in Space,” 7. 


81 



poets offered a concept of the use of song quite different from the one that had been current in 
the world of popular song for over a century. 60 

After Dylan, almost anything was possible in rock lyrics, and songwriters, some under the 
influence of psychoactive drugs and the psychedelic movement of the late 1960s, poured out 
streams of unprocessed visual, sensuous and conceptual imagery. John Lennon credited Dylan 
directly with showing the Beatles that song lyrics didn’t have to make sense, and indeed the 
Beatles’ lyrics after Help of 1965 took an entirely different direction. Lennon said, for in- 
stance, “You don’t have to hear what Bob Dylan’s saying, you just have to hear the way he 
says it.” 61 Other rock groups and songwriters who explored the realms of free association and 
“meaninglessness” in their work included the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Jimi 
Hendrix, and Yes. 62 

It was after the psychedelic efflorescence had died down considerably, in the early 1970s, that 
Eno began writing and recording songs. Four of his solo albums between 1973 and 1977, 
Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy’), Another Green World, and 
Before and After Science ) consist mostly of songs, with an occasional instrumental piece, 
since then he has written lyrics only rarely. Eno’s lyrics stand directly in the tradition of paint- 
ing with words in a rock music context that begins with Dylan and runs through the psyche- 
delic songwriters of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it was his lyrics, as much as his mu- 
sic, ideas, and personal image, that were behind the critical excitement that accompanied his 
appearance on the scene. Eno stands apart from most of the songwriters of the era in the de- 
liberation and rationality with which he approached his task. For him, presenting as art the 
unprocessed psychic contents of consciousness and of the unconscious was not enough: there 
was a distinction to be made between the vision and the form in which it was presented, and 
the working-out of the form was as important as the vision itself. 

Another important influence on Eno’s concept of lyrics was the phonetic poetry of Hugo Ball, 
Kurt Schwitters, Ernst Jandl, and Richard Huelsenbeck. Shortly after getting out of art school, 
Eno went through a period of about six months during which he experimented with sequences 
of words selected solely for their phonetic, “musical” qualities, without any regard for their 
denotational or connotational meanings. He integrated his ideas about phonetic poetry with 
his experiments with tape recorders: phonetic poetry 

was the first musical area that I was interested in [as a com- 
poser/performer]. It was a kind of music in disguise, so I allowed my- 
self to be interested in it. At the time I’d been listening to music for a 
long time, and since I couldn’t play any instruments and could scarcely 
control my voice, I considered that I really didn’t have a future in that 
area ... [Doing phonetic poetry] was important in that it started me us- 


60 See Betsy Bowden, Performed Literature: Words and Music by Bob Dylan (Bloomington: 
Indiana Universtiy Press, 1982). 

61 Jann Wenner, ed., Lennon Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interviews (San Francisco: 
Straight Arrow/Rolling Stone, 1971), 188. 

62 See Richard Goldstein, The Poetry’ of Rock (New York: Bantam Books, 1969), David R. 
Pichaske, The Poetry’ of Rock: The Golden Years (Peoria, 111.: The Ellis Press, 1981), and 
Bruce Pollock, In Their Own Words: Lyrics and Lyricists 1955-1974 (New York and London: 
Macmillan, 1975). 


82 



ing tape recorders in an interesting way because shortly after I had be- 
gun doing work with my own voice, I’d begun building up backing 
tracks of lots of other voices on top of which to do my poems, so that I 
was starting to work with multi-tracking if you like at that stage. 

In the song lyrics on his published solo albums, Eno rarely indulges in pure phonetic poetry, 
rather, he treads a careful line between nonsense and sense, between connotation and denota- 
tion, between the explicit and the implicit. When, in 1985, he and John Cage were talking 
about the distaste they share for music that comes too heavily laden with intentions, Eno 
added, “I have the same feeling about lyrics. 1 just don’t want to hear them most of the time. 
They always impose something that is so unmysterious compared to the sound of the music 
[that] they debase the music for me, in most cases.” 64 This disinclination to deal with the con- 
creteness of verbal meanings played a large part in Eno’s turn away from songwriting after 
having finished Before and After Science in 1977. 

The process of writing song lyrics has always been “peculiar and convoluted” for Eno, to 
write them at all he had to “trick” himself into doing it. He felt writing lyrics was embarrass- 
ing because of the way words can expose the mind’s thoughts and feelings directly. To write 
words, he had to search for ways to throw the inner critical voice off guard: 

With the lyric writing, I tend to begin by just shouting to a backing 
track, gradually building up a system of syllable rhythm, then getting 
the kind of phonetics that I want and gradually beginning to fill in 
words to the types of sounds my voice is making at this stage ... It 
works from sound to words and from words to meaning, so it works 
quite the other way around from the way people normally think lyrics 
are written, I think . 65 

Eno used this “backwards” technique to write the lyrics to the songs on all of his solo progres- 
sive rock albums. He would very infrequently, if ever, begin to work on a song with any con- 
crete idea of what it would be about in the verbal sense. “The lyrics are constructed as empiri- 
cally as the music,” 66 as unselfconsciously as possible, with a “what would happen if?” atti- 
tude. Eno has likened his lyric-writing process to “automatic writing, the way you scribble 
until words start to appear.” 67 Frame of mind is all-important in this sort of creativity: while 
the negative critical judgement or censor, which tends to inhibit the free play of musical and 
verbal association, must be turned off, positive judgement of other kinds must at some point 
be exercised to determine whether the words fit the music and have suitable musical colors in 
themselves, whether the words are indeed capable of evoking a rich enough fabric of meaning 
- whether, in short, the words are any good. In effect, Eno’s lyric-writing technique represents 
a way of probing the unconscious mind, systematically mining it for images and meanings - 
meanings tied up with images that may still be somewhat obscure once found. Eno is not in- 
terested in trying to strip off the final layers of ambiguity, the final results of such a stripping 


63 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 3. 

64 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 70. 

65 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 2-3. 

66 Bangs, “Eno,” 42. 

67 Rose, “Eno: Scaramouche of the Synthesizer,” 70. 


83 



might resemble the dream interpretations of psychoanalysis, and hence indeed have a pro- 
nounced “embarrassing” effect. Eno is content to give the listener the dream without the in- 
terpretation, the more so since this gives the listener the opportunity of being creative, 
through trying to work his or her own thoughts and emotions around the images presented. He 
said in 1981: 

It’s as if you’ve discovered a very dusty inscribed stone somewhere, 
and you’re trying to scrape off all the muck to find out what’s under- 
neath it, and you keep coming up with one word here, another one 
there, and you’re trying to imagine what might be in between those 
words. So in that sense I’m in the same position as the listener. I’m 
looking for the meaning of it as well. The only temptation to resist is 
the temptation to fall into a simple meaning. It’s a tantalizing process, 
you know ? 68 

Eno’s image of cleaning the dusty old stone in search of its inscription is strikingly reminis- 
cent of analogies used in analytical psychology to describe the process of trying to make con- 
scious contact with the contents of the unconscious. A Jungian might amplify Eno’s image by 
saying that such a stone was inscribed ages ago by a “civilization” with which we no longer 
have direct contact (the archetypes of the collective unconscious), it bears some message of 
great importance to us now, if we can only make it out. Eno may not find the whole message, 
some of the letters may be worn away with age, and he may have to fill in some of its words 
through guesswork. And he is not intent on interpreting the message in a personal way, at 
least not in public, he is content to let it speak for itself, for it might have a different meaning 
for different listeners. 

Ultimately, this reluctance to actively interpret the contents of the unconscious, to risk the 
embarrassment that might accompany such interpretation, must be considered a limitation in 
Eno’s song lyrics. His words, for all their ingenuity, evocative power, and phonetic sensibility, 
often lack the sense of real moral commitment that comes with the best rock lyrics, like those 
of Dylan or Lennon. Eno’s lyrics are strong in their aesthetic impact, and occasionally in their 
mysterious, quasi-spiritual quality, they have less to say about the realm of the ethical, the 
realm of human realities and relationships. They are not so self-indulgent as some of the 
spacey cosmic tableaus of early psychedelia and later progressive rock, and yet one feels that 
Eno sometimes is indeed holding back too much, is perhaps too nervous about making a real 
statement. But at least he seems to be aware of his intentions, and his lyrics do accomplish 
what they set out to do, which is to force the listener to forge some kind of meaning out of 
them. 


68 Aikin, “Brian Eno,” 64. 


84 



CHAPTER SEVEN: 

THE MUSICIAN AS PHILOSOPHER 


The content of Eno’s ideas and his consistently stylish, eloquent way of expressing them make 
him the most articulate theorist to emerge from the world of rock musicians. Along with all 
his other activities, he has devoted considerable time to reading. Considering his love of sys- 
tems and his tendency to see things in abstract terms, it is no surprise to learn that his favorite 
books - books he not only reads but rereads - are about ideas, for instance, H.G. Barnett’s 
Innovation: The Basis of Cultural Change, Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology > of Mind, 
Chogyam Tmngpa’s Cutting through Spiritual Materialism, and C.H. Waddington’s Towards 
a Theoretical Biology’} Through such studies, Eno has linked himself to some of the most 
compelling trends in modern intellectual history. 


Ultimate Realities 

An interviewer asked Eno in 1981, “Do you think there’s a God?” After pausing for a mo- 
ment, he replied, “I don’t ever use that word.” 1 2 3 In spite of, or more likely because of, his 
Catholic background, Eno has systematically avoided using Christian mythology as a concep- 
tual framework, at least in public. On the other hand, he has been open to certain oriental reli- 
gious ideas. If he rejects the idea of God in the abstact, the idea of a spiritual aspect of life is 
not entirely foreign to his way of thinking: 

Spiritualism is not the promise of a better life but the highest level of 
discussion one entertains in life - an agreement to partake of a discus- 
sion of the largest and most difficult problems. My main problems are, 
“What is really happening? How inaccurate am I? How inadequate am 
I?” I realize my map doesn’t fit the real world. Spiritualism is the 

•3 

agreement to deal with this problem. 

Eno characteristically poses the question of personal “inaccuracy” as a “spiritual” matter. The 
tone of his language when dealing with such matters is decidedly cool and detached. Indeed, 
“fervor” is a word that one would find singularly inadequate to describe most of Eno’s music, 
the phrase he prefers, when dealing with his more agitated progressive rock music, is “idiot 
energy,” which seems entirely more fitting. Eno has come close to expressing something simi- 
lar to the conventional religious image of awakening to a greater reality: 

All the musical experiences that have had an important effect on me 
have prompted the same feeling, of being faced with this strange con- 
nection of familiarity and mystery embodied in the same source, as if a 


1 Brian Eno and Russell Mills, More Dark than Shark, (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), 73. 

2 Mark Howell, “From a Strangers Evening with Brian Eno,” Another Room (June/July 1981), 
n.p. 

3 Frank Rose, “Four Conversations with Brian Eno,” Village Voice 22 (28 Mar. 1977), 70. 


85 



door has unlocked into a whole universe of feeling that exists some- 
where deep inside. It’s the feeling of being awake, rather than auto- 
matic. You get hooked on that feeling, everybody who has once felt it 
wants it for the rest of their lives . 4 

Eno’s attachment to a religious viewpoint goes no further than this. He is decidedly unsuper- 
stitious, and his philosophical stance in general is probably best described as that of the free- 
thinking agnostic. In accordance with such a stance, he takes a curious yet cautious view to- 
wards paranormal phenomena. When an adventurous interviewer asked him what he thought 
about flying saucers, Eno lamented the lack of a “serious investigation ... that wasn’t con- 
ducted by crackpots,” and at the same time revealed that he had seen one as a child with his 
sister, and had written to her years later to confirm his memory: 

She wrote back and described it exactly as I had remembered it, so I 
figured that I had actually seen it unless we mutually manufactured 
this myth. So I’m prepared to believe in their existence, or in a phe- 
nomenon strong enough to create the impression of their existence in 
your head . 5 

If Christian philosophy and mythology has had little impact on the formulation of Eno’s con- 
scious and public world-view, the role of oriental ideas is pronounced and explicit, although 
he has apparently never made a systematic study of Eastern religions. He has mentioned re- 
peatedly the impact made on him in his early years by his uncle Carl, who was a painter and 
gardener who had lived in India for about fifteen years, coming “back from the East with a 
number of very exotic theories about reincarnation and so on and so on which struck the Suf- 
folk farmers as extremely odd.” Eno was transfixed by uncle Carl’s tales, they gave him “an 
impression of how strange the world was outside our small town.” 6 

Reading Cage’s Silence also contributed to his growing awareness of Asian ideas. In 1986, 
Eno spoke of his interest in “the Chinese point of view,” and of its direct impact on the way 
he works. He singled out two of its aspects as being particularly important to him. The first is 
the idea “that every moment is a concatenation of hundreds of forces which just meet at that 
instant, and will never come together in the same way again - synchronicity.” 7 In much of his 
ambient music, but especially in his audio-visual installations of the 1980s, this concept is 
given a direct artistic embodiment, with multiple tape-loops of different lengths running si- 
multaneously, never overlapping in precisely the same way twice, and producing a series of 
unique moments or events. The second is the Eastern view of the passage of time: 


4 Mick Brown, “Life of Brian According to Eno,” Guardian, 1 May 1982, 10. 

5 Glenn O’Brien, “Eno at the Edge of Rock,” Andy Warhol’s Interview 8 (June 1978), 32. 

6 Charles Amirkhanian, “Brian Eno interviewed 2/2/80 for KPFA Marathon by C. Amirkha- 
nian, transcribed 10/29/83 [by] S. Stone,” unpublished typescript, 5. 

7 John Hutchinson, “Brian Eno: Place #13,” color brochure (Dublin: Douglas Hyde Gallery, 
1986), n.p. “Synchronicity” ( Synchronizitdt ), is a word coined by Swiss psychologist C.G. 
Jung and refers to the occurrence or experience of meaningful coincidences that cannot be 
explained on the basis of known natural laws. Carl Jung, “Synchronicity: An Acausal Con- 
necting Principle,” in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, 2nd ed., Collected Works of 
C.G. Jung, Vol. 8, Bollingen Series 20 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 417- 
519. 


86 



Our mental model is that we look into the future, the past is behind us. 

I was told that the Chinese see things quite differently: they look at the 
past, and the future washes over them, which seems to me to be much 
more sensible. There’s a kind of peacefulness in that attitude that I ap- 
preciate. You’re standing in one place, or treading water in one place, 
and meanwhile the drift of things is coming past you from behind. As 
the events recede, they cluster into bigger groups and become generali- 
ties, so you have this nice transition of specific events to a background 
of generalities. 8 

Again, this philosophical point of view has found musical expression, particularly in the solo 
album On Land of 1982. 

Eno’s interest in cybernetics was the focus of his article, “Generating and Organizing Variety 
in the Arts.” In the context of another discussion of cybernetics, Eno dismissed two other 
twentieth-century Western disciplines or practices as being of little use to him. Cybernetics, 
which acknowledges the complexity of systems, points (as does quantum theory) towards 
certain classes of results, rather than to specific outcomes and “in that sense it’s an inexact 
science, and it’s the first inexact science that actually can do something. As far as I’m con- 
cerned, those other ones, like sociology and psychology, are very inexact and they really don’t 
seem to work.” 9 

Eno has made a number of intriguing remarks that can be grouped loosely together under the 
rubric of epistemology - remarks that reveal him to be curious about the nature of knowledge. 
One has to do with a hierarchical concept which he uses to explain the creative process: 

Ideas are the result of meta-ideas, which are the result of meta-meta- 
ideas. I sometimes think I could put together all the ideas I’ve ever had 
that led to interesting things in about 20 seconds ... An idea can gener- 
ate a host of other ideas, which in turn will generate a host of pieces of 
work. 10 

In musical terms, Eno’s meta-meta-ideas have been two: a certain approach to rock music 
involving harnessing of his “idiot energy,” and a certain approach to musical materials that 
resulted in the creation of the ambient style. Each of his solo albums springs from one of 
these, and can be seen as revolving around a meta-idea - a specific approach to specific prob- 
lems of style, of group organization, of musical theory and presentation. 

The limits of understanding are expressed by Eno in his rephrasing of a Socratic aphorism: 
“You can never understand anything totally. But when you begin to understand something, 
you realise how much more there is that you don’t understand.” 11 The context for this remark 
was his close study of paintings of Ron Kitaj. Reading criticism of the paintings, Eno said, 
has not lessened his appreciation of the painter’s work, on the contrary, he found it more fas- 


s Hutchinson, “Eno: Place #13,” n.p. 

9 Kurt Loder, “Eno,” Synapse (Jan./Feb. 1979), 26. 

10 Steven Grant, “Brian Eno Against Interpretation,” Trouser Press 9 (Aug. 1982), 30. 

11 Alan Jensen, “The Sound of Silence: A Thursday Afternoon with Brian Eno,” Electronics 
& Music Maker (Dec. 1985), 25. 


87 



cinating the more he learned about it. A final facet of Eno’s thinking about knowledge is the 
idea that one’s sum total of knowledge remains the same, as if one had a maximum available 
at any given moment, though its contents might shift: 

Luis Bunuel said that in a film every object obscures another object. 

That’s a great maxim for me. I have another version of that: Every in- 
crease in your knowledge is a simultaneous decrease. You learn and 

12 

unlearn at the same time. A new certainty is a new doubt as well 


Culture and Information 

Since the early 1980s, Eno has been preoccupied with working out a theory of “culture as a 
system of knowledge ... as a system of evolution in the same way that you might talk about 
genetics as a system of evolution ... But since this is practically all 1 ever think about, since it 
occupies practically all of my serious thinking time, I don’t have any simple comments about 
it.” 13 He mentioned in 1981 that he hopes to publish this theory in one form or another, but as 
yet all we have is a handful of typically Enoesque, thought-provoking fragments. He sees all 
human culture as a system for the transfer of information, directly analogous to genetics, in 
the sense that “all creatures transmit information about their environment genetically.” 

Culture is all human behaviour, outside of pure instinct. Everything we 
do is cultural: gardening, cooking, different fashions, architecture. 

What artists do a lot, in music in particular, is look at culture in the 
world. Music doesn’t depict something, it’s about other music. So 
quite a lot of the business of “culture merchants” like myself is study- 
ing how culture works - how it changes and how it changes us . 14 

One view of the history of culture, and of specific art forms such as music, holds that the pri- 
mary role of the creative artist is to innovate, the result being a sort of linear progress or evo- 
lution in a (we hope) positive direction. Eno finds this view old-fashioned and outmoded. The 
artist, according to Eno, 

“re -mixes” - he perpetuates a great body of received cultural and sty- 
listic assumptions, he re-evaluates and re-introduces certain ideas no 
longer current, and then he also innovates. But the “innovation” part 
might be a much smaller proportion than we usually think. Conse- 
quently, I started to suspect that the palette of the painter or artist was 
incredibly broad - that it was the whole history of art. There’s nothing 
linear about evolution at all: it is a process of trying to stay in the same 
place, of trying to maintain an identity in a changing landscape . 13 


12 Grant, “Eno Against Interpretation,” 29. 

13 Jim Aikin, “Brian Eno,” Keyboard 7 (July 1981), 66. 

14 Jensen, “Sound of Silence,” 24-5. 

15 Hutchinson, “Eno: Place #13,” n.p. 


88 



All of this is strikingly reminiscent of Leonard B. Meyer’s interpretation of twentieth-century 
music as having entered a period of stasis, following centuries of what was perceived as evo- 
lution. 16 In fact, Eno’s musical career itself can be seen as a first-rate example of Meyerian 
stasis in microcosm: many kinds of music and ideas exist and are available to him as a com- 
poser, and although people change and their interests shift, the question of defining their de- 
velopment in terms of evolutionary steps is not really to the point. 


The Masculine and the Feminine 

In the last few decades Western society seems to have undergone a profound change in sexual 
orientation in the broadest sense. We are familiar enough with many of the outward manifes- 
tations of this change: the liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, when traditional 
attitudes towards sexual relationships shifted dramatically, the decay of the institution of mar- 
riage, the rise of movements dedicated to the acceptance of homosexuality, and, in general, 
the questioning of very old and ingrained socio-sexual roles, with more women than ever be- 
fore entering the labor force and (perhaps) more men than ever before taking on aspects of the 
traditional feminine role of domestic responsibility and nurturing. Some of the most incisive 
insights into these changes come from Jungian psychologists such as Edward Whitmont, who 
in his challenging book Return of the Goddess argues, through interpretation of past and pre- 
sent cultural symbols, that the age-old myth of the supremacy of the male deity (representing 
the triumph of [male] consciousness and will over [female] unconsiousness and instinct), is 
losing its ability to guide mankind’s collective fate in the age of science and the thermonu- 
clear bomb. 17 The last few years have seen the inevitable swing of the pendulum: a conserva- 
tive backlash seems to be gaining ground, with calls for renewed commitment to traditional 
family values and sexual mores, yet it seems clear that in the decades and centuries ahead, 
new masculine and feminine roles will have to be forged and taken on by men and women in 
order for society to attain a new psychic balance and indeed to avert the catastrophes bound to 
occur when a society continues to live by a myth that is no longer supported by reality. 

The role of rock music in contemporary sexual politics is not easy to summarize, since it is 
played out on many levels. The rise of rock and roll in the 1950s was seen by moralizing crit- 
ics from the right as a threat to traditional values: the physical movements of the some of the 
performers were notoriously suggestive (Elvis the Pelvis), the lyrics to some of the songs 
were openly and provocatively about sex, not euphemistic and sentimental as they had been in 
the era of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley, the music was loud, hypnotic, and mesmerizing, sup- 
posedly encouraging teenagers to lower their conscious defenses, and even the term “rock and 
roll” itself was taken from a black slang expression for the sex act. 

Since those early and, in retrospect, seemingly innocent times, popular music has been the 
forum for the testing-out of many different sexual self-images, even if the dominant image 
continues even today to be that of the macho male youth, or “cock-rocker,” to borrow an ex- 


16 Leonard B. Meyer, Music, the Arts and Ideas: Patterns and Predictions in Twentieth- 
Century’ Culture (Chicago and London: Universtiy of Chicago Press, 1967), 87-232. 

17 Edward Whitmont, Return of the Goddess (New York: Crossroad, 1984). 


89 



pression from Simon Frith. 18 The 1960s saw the “girl-group” phenomenon (which Barbara 
Bradby has argued was not merely a cover for male pop creativity and marketing strategies), 19 
and also the cosmic bisexuality of the hippie movement and acid rock, in which fashions of 
dress and of music were nearly interchangeable between the genders, the 1970s saw the emer- 
gence of the “sensitive” male singer-songwriter, epitomized by James Taylor, as well as vari- 
ous female roles, from the acute musical intelligence of Joni Mitchell to the wildly visionary, 
proto-punk posturings of Patti Smith, who didn’t bother to change the gender of the person 
she was forcibly to seduce in singing Van Morrison’s “Gloria” on her 1975 Horses LP. In the 
1970s and 1980s the women’s movement found in song an outlet for the expression of new 
modes of femininity, notably through singer-songwriters like Holly Near. 

In the early 1970s one of the most radical of all sexual images surfaced in England - that of 
the totally feminized male. Stars like David Bowie, Elton John, and Marc Bolan (of the rock 
group T. Rex) appeared onstage and on album covers in partially or completely feminine at- 
tire, or at least the attire of a particular masculine fantasy-image of the feminine. In the 
whirlwind of dyed hair, exaggerated makeup, platform shoes, and glittery costumes, “glam 
rock” seemed to pose the question of male identity in a pointed form. How much of this was 
truly significant role-questioning at a deep collective level, and how much was simply “the 
latest fashion fad, encouraging an escape from immediate concerns and obvious commit- 
ment,” is an issue that has been probed by Iain Chambers, the writer who probably more than 
any other has dwelt on the connotational importance of visual aspects of rock performance. 20 

It is against the backdrop of glam rock that we may situate the androgynous public image Eno 
presented to the public in his work with Roxy Music and subsequent onstage appearances in 
the early 1970s. According to Eno, that image resulted in part from “a deliberate decision by 
all of us to dress interestingly as well as to be aurally interesting.” 21 In a sense, Eno was sim- 
ply in the right place at the right time, able to capitalize on his image’s shock effect for public- 
ity purposes while “glam” was at its peak. But at the same time, there is no reason to doubt 
the sincerity of his subsequent explanations of why he wore such things as lipstick and mas- 
cara, peacock and ostrich plumes, leopard-skin shirts, and a soft beret over cascading blond 
locks. In 1978, after the release of his solo album Before and After Science , he discussed the 
matter not only in terms of artistic self-expression but in terms of probing the essence of life 
through the archetypal duality of the masculine and the feminine: 

The conditions before and after science are identical in terms of how 
people will relate to each other. McLuhan’s global village and tribal 
village are the same thing. Right now, although you may have your 
personal oases of before or after science, the world is in science. I use 
that word in a limited sense: deification of rational knowledge ... Be- 
fore I ever joined Roxy, I got interested in wearing clothing that would 

18 Simon Frith, Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock’n’Roll (New York: 
Pantheon, 1981). 

19 Barbara Bradby, “Do-Talk and Don’t Talk: Conflicting Voices in Sixties Girl-Group 
Songs,” paper delivered at the Third International Conference on Popular Music Studies, Uni- 
versite du Quebec a Montreal, 10 July 1985. 

0 lain Chambers, “Glam Rock,” in his Urban Rhythms: Pop Music and Popular Culture 
(New York: St. Martin’s, 1985), 128-38. 

21 Arthur Lubow, Eno, Before and After Roxy,” New Times 10 (6 March 1978), 72. 


90 



have been considered effeminate. I didn’t like masculine clothes. The 
Western version of masculinity opposes rational man against intuitive 
woman. The part of my being that interests me has always been my in- 
tuition ... I don’t bother to question my intuition. If I feel like doing 
something, I do it, and figure that I’ll understand it later. If I had ques- 
tioned my intuition, I would probably be a bank clerk. In any person’s 

22 

life, the most important decisions are indefensible. 

Paradoxically, Eno’s visual persona changed from “feminine” to “masculine” during the same 
period around 1975 that his musical style underwent a marked shift from “masculine” to 
“feminine” values. Since that period he has kept his thinning hair relatively short, and has 
been photographed in utterly “male” jeans and slacks, T-shirts and sneakers or sandals. His 
disarmingly normal appearance may be indeed motivated, as one writer has suggested, by a 
desire “to enjoy the thrill of anonymity.” 23 But whereas his work with Roxy Music and on his 
first three solo albums utilized, at least to a considerable extent, the arguably masculine musi- 
cal qualities of a thrusting, pulsating rock beat, and a dynamic level that was frequently ag- 
gressive and even strident, since his 1975 album Discreet Music Eno’s solo music has em- 
braced and embodied the feminine qualities of containment, being, and spaciousness. 

Eno has been explicitly aware of the change. An interviewer asked him in 1981 whether he 
thought Discreet Music, Music for Airports, and Music for Healing (an album that was never 
released) contained “unmasculine music.” He responded, “I think it’s pretty bisexual, that’s 
what I think.” The interviewer pressed on: “Do you feel like you’re moving even further into 
the feminine area?” Eno said: 

These are interesting questions. My own perspective on what I do is 
that my work started out as being very distinctively masculine. My 
look was ahead of the music. Then the music moved away from that 
position. I’m now working in the opposite direction of just cramming 
the song with thrills, sharp or harsh things. I’m trying to get rid of 
things now. Every event either obscures another event or obscures si- 
lence, so you may as well leave as much out of everything as you 


Politics 

Eno has never been a political musician in the sense of someone who believes in and tries to 
put across in music a certain specific program for social change. Even his solo album Taking 
Tiger Mountain (By Strategy’), which is loosely based on a set of picture -postcards of a Chi- 
nese revolutionary drama, is not so much a political statement as it is an aesthetic response to 
a strange, exotic culture - reminiscent of Debussy’s pentatonic chinoiserie in “Pagodas” and 
other works. As we have seen, Eno was attracted to Cardew’s experimental piece “The Great 


22 Lubow, “Eno, Before and After Roxy,” 72. 

23 Lubow, “Eno, Before and After Roxy,” 72. 

24 Howell, “Strangers Evening with Eno,” n.p. 


91 



Learning”, but Cardew’s later, more overtly political music left him non-plussed: “My per- 
sonal opinion is that the Maoist thing for him is a very big mistake, and it significantly re- 
duced his music.” When musicians become overtly political, according to Eno, they inevitably 
begin relying too heavily on language, which is in effect a denial of their real mission. 

Normally, when people become politically conscious in the way that 
Cardew did, they ... say, “The job of the artist is to radicalize society,” 
for example, and they say, “How do you do that?” And so then they 
start thinking, “Well, you do it by this and this and this” - and sud- 

25 

denly, the music becomes like an advertisement for a doctrine. 

Eno believes that “serious political change is always personal.” 26 In spite of his enthusiastic 
work with punk and new-wave groups in the late 1970s and 1980s (and most recently with 
U2), Eno rejects the more aggressive political overtones of those movements. In 1982, he 
criticized “post-new-wave” music for its excessively narrow view of human experience, and 
in so doing directed a barb or two at Marxist sociologists of rock: 

It’s such an outmoded view, that grows out of that Western academic 
idea of reducing everything to economics. There is this terrible spuri- 
ous socialism that affects so many groups but the music actually be- 
longs to another political standpoint altogether - it’s almost a thuggish, 
power, me, me position which is the real politics of that music, the real 
message. 

To me, my decision to work in the way I do has political resonances. 

The decision to stop seeing yourself as the centre of the world, to see 
yourself as part of the greater flow of things, as having limited options 
and responsibility for your actions - the converse of that “me” genera- 
tion, “do your own thing” idea - that is political theory: and it’s what 

77 

the music grows from.” 

Eno places little store by the dominant contemporary ideology of materialism and acquisitive- 
ness. When an interviewer posed the unwieldy question, “What’s the most overrated idea cur- 
rently held by western culture?,” Eno responded: 

Oh god. Well, in my opinion it’s the idea of the free individual. That’s 
a very overrated aspiration and American society is full of its symp- 


25 Loder, “Eno,” 25. 

26 Loder, “Eno,” 26. Robert Fripp, Eno’s friend and collaborator, has used similar terms to 
express his apolitical yet radical stance. In one of his several philosophical manifestoes, Fripp 
put it like this: “My belief is that all political activity directed towards changing the means of 
working is ineffective without a change in our way of working, and that this is essentially 
personal. If we change our way of doing things, structural change necessarily follows. If we 
wish for this personal change we need discipline, and the only effective discipline is self- 
discipline. External discipline, i.e., control, the normal direction of authoritarian agencies, 
generates an at least equal reaction.” Robert Fripp, liner notes to Let The Power Fall: An Al- 
bum ofFrippertronics, Editions EG EGS 110, 1981. 

27 Brown, “Life of Brian According to Eno,” 10. 


92 



toms. There’s a very limited sense in which people differ from one an- 
other and those differences seem to me to be fairly superficial. There 
are many more ways in which people are similar but the whole accent 
of this culture has been to stress those differences and understress the 
similarities. People are encouraged to want their own this and their 
own that, and led to believe that those external things are all attributes 
of their individuality and they aren’t complete without them. And such 
is the basis of a consumer culture . 28 

For the most part, specifically political issues are avoided in Eno interviews, when they come 
up, Eno is liable to put them into some much broader context, or, occasionally, to take a point 
of view that is detatched almost to the point of being chilling. Fie showed interviewer Frank 
Rose a scrapbook of newspaper clippings he had been keeping, one headline read “The War of 
the Satellites: Pentagon Is Developing Defense Measures Against Soviet Hunter-Killer Space- 
craft.'’ This “sets him off," according to Rose, “on a 15-minute discussion in which he terms 
the idea of ritual wars in space involving unmanned craft ‘quite interesting.’” 29 Taken out of 
context, such a remark gives an impression Eno did not likely intend, but it is not difficult to 
guess what he found intriguing about the prospect of Star Wars: space exploration itself, to 
which his 1982 album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks is a tribute, the idea of interac- 
tion between vast, impersonal, computerized systems, which are likely to produce completely 
unexpected results, and the idea of ritualized conflict itself, which he had probed, albeit 
obliquely, in Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy’). Eno is constantly seeking underlying pat- 
terns and principles to gain perspective on the facts and occurrences of human and non-human 
existence. 


Metaphors and Images 

In the foregoing I have attempted to sum up some of Eno’s ideas on a variety of subjects, in 
order to demonstrate the broad scope and content of his world-view. The style of his verbal 
discourse frequently relies on metaphor and simile - and on sometimes fanciful, sometimes 
profound conceptions of cross-connections between diverse fields of knowledge and experi- 
ence. 

Eno has acknowledged on several occasions that he is more inclined to think in visual or spa- 
tial terms than in a strict linear fashion. We have already seen how he thinks of his creative 
products as ultimately stemming from a few “meta-ideas,” which in turn spring from a very 
few “meta-meta-ideas,” in a sort of hierarchical web or matrix. He has been known to doodle 
incessantly while being interviewed, often producing diagrams that he feels express his think- 
ing better than linearly ordered sentences. He has filled volumes of notebooks with diagrams, 
sketches, lists, tables, ideas, expressions, and what he calls “amateur mathematics.” Repro- 
ductions of a number of these notebooks’ pages were published in 19 8 6, 30 and he has occa- 
sionally hinted that he would like to assemble a collection of his sketches, ideas, lectures, 


28 McKenna, “Eno,” 44. 

29 Rose, “Four Conversations with Eno,” 70. 

30 Eno and Mills, More Dark than Shark. 


93 



fragments, and graphs into a book intended to be read not from beginning to end but by 
choosing various possible “pathways” from one section to another. 

If in his creative work he is free to operate within a spatial or hierarchical frame of reference, 
he also happily accepts the challenge of framing his thoughts in linear, verbal form, and has 
found a suitable medium - the interview. For Eno, being interviewed means putting himself in 
a situation where he is forced to articulate his ideas. 

A particularly good example of the way in which visual and spatial images and patterns form 
the substance of Eno ’s way of thinking is provided by his account of walking past “an enor- 
mous rubber plantation in Malaysia”: 

It was a chaos of trees, thousands of them. I thought it strange that they 
should be planted so randomly. Then I reached a point where I realized 
they were in absolutely straight rows. Only at one point could I see 
that. 

Particular ideas create a point of view that organizes something that, 
from any other angle, is chaotic. The same is true of memories. You 
think of your past as a kind of jungle. Suddenly you’ll have what I call 
a crack in time, where you can see right through the gap to the field at 
the other end. 31 

Eno has used an elaborate visual metaphor to illuminate the contrast between the mechanical 
noises frequently produced by musicians using synthesizers and the kinds of sounds he tries to 
draw out of them. The typical sounds produced by synthesizers, he says, are like the synthetic 
designer material formica: elegant from a distance, but rather boring and regular when viewed 
close up. Acoustic instrumental sounds, and synthesized sounds properly treated, are more 
like a forest, which is beautiful and complex at any level of magnification: viewed from miles 
above, from the level of the treetops, each individual tree and leaf, and the microscopic, mo- 
lecular structure of the plants themselves. “The thing permits you any level of scrutiny. And 
more and more, I want to make things that have that same quality ... things that allow you to 
enter into them as far as you could imagine going, yet don’t suddenly reveal themselves to be 
composed of paper-thin, synthetic materials.” 32 Indeed, one of the things that distinguishes 
Eno’s best ambient music from the vast majority of superficially similar electronically-based 
pieces in the “space music” genre is precisely this sense of depth and complexity at any num- 
ber of audible structural levels. (We shall return to this point in Chapter 10.) 

Another striking and even more extended metaphor is what has been called Eno’s “hologram 
theory of music.” He begins by describing Samuel Beckett’s Company, a book about 90 pages 
long printed in very large type. In typical Beckett style, Company contains a few phrases that 
are endlessly repeated, permutated, said over and over again in slightly different ways. “Once 
you’ve seen the first two pages, you’ve effectively read the entire book.” This reminded Eno 
of the Catholic doctrine he learned in school to the effect that the host - the bread wafer re- 
ceived at Holy Communion - “could be broken into any number of minute parts and ... each 


31 Grant, “Eno Against Interpretation,” 30. 

32 Bill Milkowski, “Brian Eno: Excursions in the Electronic Environment,” Down Beat 50 
(June 1983), 15. 


94 



part was still the complete body of Jesus Christ.” Later Eno learned about holograms, the spe- 
cially engineered plates that reproduce a three-dimensional image. Holograms, he discovered, 
were a concrete, physical analog to the doctrine of the host, for when a hologram is shattered, 
each piece still contains an image of the whole, though it is indistinct and fuzzy. He observed 
something of the same phenomenon in his study of a series of Cezanne paintings: “You could 
take a square inch of one of those Cezanne paintings and somehow there was the same inten- 
sity and feeling and style within that one piece as there was within the whole picture.” Eno’s 
conclusion from all these observations was simple, yet it has affected much of his music: “I 
thought, this is really how I want to work from now on. I don’t want to just fill in spaces any- 
more ... I want to be alive every stage of doing any project. 33 

Eno relied on a more down-to-earth metaphor in responding to an interviewer who said to 
him, “As somebody who is so frequently ‘borrowed from,’ I would think you’d have mixed 
feelings about new artists doing something that really isn’t new art”: 

I think of it as compost. If you think of culture as a great big garden, it 
has to have its compost as well. And lots of people are doing things 
that are ... not dramatic or radical or not even particularly interesting, 
they’re just digestive processes. It’s places where a number of little 
things are being combined and tried out. It’s like members of a popula- 
tion. We’re all little different turns of the same genetic dice. If you 
think about music in that way, it makes it much easier to accept that 
there might be lots of things you might not want to hear again. They 
happen and they pass and they become the compost for something else 
to grow from [laughs]. Gardening is such a good lesson for all sorts of 
things . 34 

Another image from the natural world Eno has drawn upon in explicating his ideas is that of 
the sea, although, true to his rock roots, he pictures a surfer riding the waves: 

I don’t just want to see a good idea or a clever use of materials. One of 
the motives for being an artist is to recreate a condition where you’re 
actually out of your depth, where you’re uncertain, no longer control- 
ling yourself, yet you’re generating something, like surfing as opposed 
to digging a tunnel. Tunnel-digging activity is necessary, but what art- 
ists like, if they still like what they’re doing, is the surfing. 

The image of the surfer resonates with Eno’s creative philosophy of “riding on the dynamics 
of the system” as opposed to making up rigid theories and taking ineffectual actions in at- 
tempts to control. 


33 Milkowski, “Eno: Excursions,” 16-7. 

34 Rob Tannenbaum, “A Meeting of Sound Minds: John Cage and Brian Eno,” Musician 83 
(Sept. 1985), 72. 

35 Anthony Korner, “Aurora Musicalis,” Artforum 24:10 (Summer 1986), 79. 


95 



CHAPTER EIGHT: 

TAKING ROCK TO THE LIMIT 


Although the varieties of rock are legion, certain musical characteristics remain more or less 
constant. Among these are: song forms deriving largely from blues and the American popular 
song tradition, a melodic technique most often based on short phrases of text whose musical 
embodiment is intimately matched with the natural cadences of speech, a harmonic idiom 
based on the traditional major/minor tonal system in terms of chord content (but not necessar- 
ily in terms of chord progressions), and a complex of rhythmic archetypes in which 4/4 meter 
with displaced accents (on beats two and four instead of one and three) predominates. Rock is 
also based on a set of textural norms involving a prominent vocal line with an accompaniment 
in which electric bass and dram kit are indispensable, electric and/or acoustic guitars are 
nearly indispensable, and other instruments such as keyboards (acoustic and electric piano, 
organ, synthesizer, and other electronic keyboards such as the mellotron), brass, woodwinds, 
and assorted percussion, are prevalent but not indispensable. In musical terms, the most im- 
portant style characteristic in determining whether or not a piece is or is not “rock” is the in- 
strumental format in conjuction with a set of musical patterns set up by the rhythm section of 
drams, bass, and guitar. To “rock” a piece of classical music, it usually suffices simply to add 
a rock rhythm section to the tune. Conversely, a rock piece can be “classicized” or “de- 
rocked” by re -orchestrating it and subtracting the rhythm section, as is frequently done in 
canned music. 

If rock music is thus seen not as a genre determined by the demographics of record consump- 
tion, the verbal content of the songs, or the political stance of the musicians, but rather as a 
complex of musical style characteristics, how far can those characteristics be diluted or ex- 
tended before the music ceases to be rock? Many answers to this question have been pro- 
posed, not in abstract musicological terms of course, but in actual pieces of music. 

A number of rock’s leading musicians have taken rock to the limit, only to pull back to more 
traditional positions. During their most innovative period, from Rubber Soul to Magical Mys- 
tery’ Tour (or roughly 1965-1967), the Beatles extended the musical definition of rock through 
their textural experimentation, drawing freely on the instrumental resources not only of the 
rock and jazz traditions, but of Western classical music, Indian music, and electronic music, in 
later efforts such as the 1968 “white album” The Beatles, they largely abandoned such non- 
rock trappings in favor of a back-to-basics approach. The Rolling Stones’ development fol- 
lowed a similar path, their pinnacle of experimentation being reached in Their Satanic Majes- 
ties’ Request of 1967 and in Beggar’s Banquet of the following year. Throughout their entire 
subsequent career, the Stones drew back into the rock mainstream and reaffirmed its attendant 
stylistic norms. The progressive rock group Yes, adding synthesizers and expanding rock’s 
harmonic palette beyond most previous limits, broke out of rock’s formal conventions with 
compositions like the nineteen-minute “Close to the Edge” of 1972, when Yes regrouped in 
the 1980s, however, it was with a more frankly commercial sound operating within consid- 
erably streamlined formal dimensions. 

Many groups have extended the language of rock by attempting a fusion of genres, notably 
jazz and rock. Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago approached such a fusion from the direction 


96 



of rock, while Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea approached it from the direc- 
tion of jazz. A few remarkable musicians such as Frank Zappa and Robert Fripp have made 
repeated forays beyond the bounds of rock styles, but tend to return to rock as if it were a rela- 
tively stable home base. 

Eno, on the other hand, is among the few prominent musicians from a rock background who 
has taken rock to its stylistic limits, gone beyond them, and stayed beyond. His last major solo 
effort in a rock-related style was in 1981, when he made the strange, unique album My Life in 
the Bush of Ghosts with David Byrne - an album that owes at least as much to Eno’s assimila- 
tion of world-music influences as it does to rock proper. Up to that point, Eno had worked 
with essentially two musical types, progressive rock and the ambient style, moving back and 
forth between them for individual projects, or, in a number of highly interesting experiments, 
combining elements of the two, since 1981, his solo music has been strictly ambient. In this 
chapter and the following ones we shall examine Eno’s progressive rock and ambient music in 
turn, concentrating on those albums in which Eno is listed as the primary composer or co- 
composer. 1 


The Albums 

For his first solo album. Here Come the Warm Jets of 1973, Eno brought some sixteen musi- 
cians into the studio (several of whom he had worked with previously) and assembled a set of 
ten songs that in some respects were derivative, in some respects experimental, and in other 
ways strikingly anticipated developments in the punk and new wave rock of the late 1970s. 
The album’s title turned to be a poetic reference to urination. The credits, which, as on all of 
Eno’s progressive rock records, meticulously list who played what on which tracks, 2 note that 
“Eno sings ... and (occasionally) plays simplistic keyboards, snake guitar, electric larynx and 
synthesizer, and treats the other instillments.” “Snake guitar” and “electric larynx” are the first 
of many such whimsical terms that Eno coined to describe given sounds either by their tim- 
bral character or their means of production. Although the songs are composed by Eno, 
Eno/Manzanera, Eno/Fripp, and Eno (arr. Thompson/Jones/Judd/Eno), Eno was the control- 
ling force behind the album’s creation, as well as its producer. In the music of Here Come the 
Warm Jets, references, probably both intentional and unintentional, to the history of rock 
abound: in Eno’s vocal style, which in some songs is directly modelled on the idiosyncracies 
of Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry, in the standard formal outlines and harmonic structure of many 
of the songs, and in specific sound-types such as the neo-fifties tinkling piano and falsetto 
“ahs” of “Cindy Tells Me” or the characteristic dram rhythms of “Blank Frank” (modelled on 
Bo Diddley’s classic “Who Do You Love” which had been covered by several groups). Eno’s 
own musical personality emerges, however, in the highly varied uses of texture and instru- 
mentation, in the formal experimentation (for instance, in “On Some Faraway Beach,” in 
which the vocal melody enters, tacked on almost as an afterthought, only after several minutes 
of an instrumental set of variations), and in the special attention paid to timbre (as in the 


1 This selection criterion means that little or no mention will be made in these pages of the 
roughly three dozen other albums Eno has produced or played on. His contribution to most of 
these other albums is briefly noted in the “Eno Discography” in “Musical Sources” below, 
337. 

2 For hill listings of the musicians on this and other albums, see “Eno Discography,” 337. 


97 



hymn-like vocal and electronic keyboard sonorities of “Some of Them Are Old”). All in all. 
Here Come the Warm Jets is refined ore from the same vein of quirky, intentionally mannered 
progressive rock mined by groups like Roxy Music and Gentle Giant. 

Here Come the Warm Jets was recorded in twelve days, a short span of time by modern studio 
standards. Eno’s role was as much instigator and manipulator as composer. Describing his 
studio technique at the time, he said that he would listen to what the musicians were playing 
(the chord and rhythm changes presumably having been established beforehand), and “then 
I’ll take what they’re doing and say, ‘What position does this put me in?,’ and ‘how can I jus- 
tify the musical idea to suit?’“ 3 With his progressive rock albums, Eno was interested in as- 
sembling 

groups of musicians because they’re incompatible and not because 
they’re compatible. I’m only interested in working, really, with people 
I don’t agree with or who have a different direction. Particularly on 
Here Come the Warm Jets - 1 assembled musicians who normally 
wouldn’t work together in any real-life situation. And I got them to- 
gether merely because I wanted to see what happens when you com- 
bine different identities like that and you allow them to compete. My 
role is to coordinate them, synthesize them, furnish the central issue 
which they all will revolve around, producing a hybrid ... [The situa- 
tion] is organized with the knowledge that there might be accidents, 
accidents which will be more interesting than what I had intended. 4 

So much, it would seem, for the overriding authority and pre-existence of a definite composi- 
tional intent. Albums like Here Come the Warm Jets are somewhat like group improvisation 
within certain limits. Or, to put it more precisely, the residues of the group improvisation fur- 
nish the block of marble whose properties - grain, shape, size - Eno the sculptor then con- 
templates and carves out according to an empirically-derived idea of what the end result 
should look like - though this idea itself is subject to change at any stage of the process. Eno’s 
actual role in the making of albums like Here Come the Warm Jets was thus obviously not that 
of the traditional composer, who conceives and writes out a score from which parts are tran- 
scribed and which musicians then play, or even that of the popular songwriter, who is often 
less concerned with arrangement, performance, and recording than simply with crafting mel- 
ody and harmony. Eno’s role was somewhat paradoxical: although he retained complete artis- 
tic control over the final product, he was at pains not to suppress the spontaneous creativity of 
his musicians. 

What did Eno actually tell or ask his musicians to play? Apparently he gave them verbal 
suggestions, often with the help of visual images or body language. “I dance a bit, to describe 
what sort of movement it ought to make in you, and I’ve found that’s a very good way of talk- 
ing to musicians. Particularly bass players, because they tend to be into the swirling hips.” 5 
Many if not most rock musicians, in the absence of a written, notated form of communication. 


3 Geoff Brown, “Eno’s Where It’s At,” Melody Maker 48 (10 Nov. 1973), 41. 

4 Cynthia Dagnal, “Eno and the Jets: Controlled Chaos,” Rolling Stone 169 (12 Sept. 1974), 

21 . 

5 Lester Bangs, “Eno,” Musician, Player & Listener 21 (Nov. 1979), 42. 


98 



get their ideas across to each other through body language, singing, making other kinds of 
percussive and pitched noises, and through mixtures of verbal and non-verbal communication. 
Eno is particularly adept at this kind of thing, on the receiving end as well as the giving. 

After the actual work of collective or individual recording was done and stored on twenty- 
four-track tape, Eno himself carried out a further process of mixing, refinement, and conden- 
sation, frequently giving form to a piece that bore little resemblance to what the musicians 
heard themselves play in the studio. Eno arrived at the lyrics to most of the songs on Here 
Come the Warm Jets through the process described in Chapter 6, playing back the backing 
tracks, singing whatever nonsense syllables came into his mind, and eventually working these 
syllables or phonetic motives taken from them into actual words and phrases. 

Reviews of Here Come the Warm Jets were for the most part favorable. Lester Bangs called 
the record “incredible” and stressed Eno’s penchant for the bizarre and avant-garde, as did 
most reviewers. 6 Robert Christgau gave the record a B plus. 7 Ed Naha honored it by making it 
one of Circus magazine’s “Picks of the Month,” and wrote: “Dwelling in an eerie realm fluc- 
tuating somewhere between [Walt Disney’s] Fantasia and early Sixties British pop, Eno dab- 
bles in a musical world untouched by human hands ... so far, anyhow.” 8 The editors of Rolling 
Stone had Cynthia Dagnal write a feature article on Eno, she called the album “a very compel- 
ling experiment in controlled chaos and by his own self-dictated standards a near success.” 9 A 
month later, however, Gordon Fletcher, reviewing Jets in the Records section of the same 
magazine, sounded one of the few sour notes in the general acclaim for Eno’s approach and 
results. Eno, he wrote, 

writes weird songs but their weirdness is more silly than puzzling. 

Lacking any mentionable instrumental proficiency, he claims he 
“treats” other musicians’ instruments - though the end product of his 
efforts would have to be classed as indiscernible. His record is annoy- 
ing because it doesn’t do anything ... In fact the whole album may be 
described as tepid, and the listener must kick himself for blowing five 
bucks on baloney . 10 

Using a core band of five instrumentalists (keyboards, guitars, bass, drums, and percussion), 
Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy’) of 1974 further explores the stylistic territory mapped 
out by Here Come the Warm Jets : sharply-etched, texturally varied, imaginatively produced 
rock songs with lyrics full of word-play, irony, and half-emerging meanings. Although Eno 
may never have had, if record sales are any indication, a gift for writing the popular song 
hook, his melodies here are well-crafted, perfectly matched to the rhythms of the lyrics, and 
vary sufficiently between stepwise directional motion, jumpy leaps, and “recitation tone” de- 
livery to offset the increasingly bland color of his voice and the narrowness of its dynamic 
range. The overall impression given by the collection of ten songs on Tiger Mountain is of a 


6 Lester Bangs, “Records: Here Come the Warm Jets” Creem 6 (Oct. 1974), 61. 

7 Robert Christgau, “The Christgau Consumer Guide,” Creem (April 1975), 11. 

8 Ed Naha, “Record Lovers Guide: Picks of the Month: Brian Eno: Here Come the Warm 
Jets,” Circus (Dec. 1974), 61. 

9 Dagnal, “Eno and the Jets: Controlled Chaos,” 16. 

10 Gordon Fletcher, “Records: Here Come the Warm Jets,” Rolling Stone 172 (24 Oct. 1974), 
74. 


99 



conventional rock idiom, but with everything slightly off-center: in one song it might be a 
stripped-down minimalistic texture with a lot of space between the notes, in another, a guitar 
timbre that has been electronically treated to give it a peculiar, exotic tone quality, in another, 
a vocal part delivered deadpan in Eno’s colorless low register, in another, the scratchy, out-of- 
tune string section of the Portsmouth Sinfonia. In the middle of the last song on Side One, an 
electronically produced chorus of chirping crickets enters, and remains sounding all the way 
into the wind-off grooves, after the rest of the music has faded out. Thus whereas certain ele- 
ments of the music - form, harmony, melody, rhythm, and instrumentation - remain rooted in 
rock conventions, other elements - most notably texture and timbre - become vehicles for 
experiments in sound. 

Eno had come across a set of colorful picture postcards depicting scenes from the Maoist 
revolutionary drama “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy,” and was captivated by the evoca- 
tiveness of the title: 

I nearly always work from ideas rather than sounds ... I’m not Maoist 
or any of that, if anything I’m anti-Maoist. Strategy interests me be- 
cause it deals with the interaction of systems, which is what my inter- 
est in music is really, and not so much the interaction of sounds. One 
of the recurrent themes of rock music is a preoccupation with new 
dances. And it’s taken by intellectuals as the lowest form of rock mu- 
sic, the most base and crude. So I was interested in combining that 
very naive and crude form of basic expression with an extremely com- 
plex concept like “Tiger Mountain.” 11 

The combination of elements works only on a very abstract level, there are a few references to 
China in the lyrics, notably in the song “China My China,” but only very considerable reading 
between the lines could make this record a statement about China or Maoism. The song “Tak- 
ing Tiger Mountain” itself is almost completely instrumental, and the lyrics consist of a single 
verse, “We climbed and we climbed and we climbed/Oh how we climbed/Over the stars to top 
Tiger Mountain/Forcing the lines to the snow.” Eno explained his idea of what the album’s 
title meant: 

It typifies the dichotomy between the archaic and the progressive. Half 

Taking Tiger Mountain - that Middle Ages physical feel of storming a 

military position - and half (By Strategy) - that very, very 20th- 

12 

century mental concept of a tactical interaction of systems. 

Tiger Mountain received even more attention in the rock press than the previous year’s Here 
Come the Warm Jets, and once again most notices were highly favorable. Robert Christgau 
upgraded his estimation of Eno’s efforts to an “A,” writing that “for all its synthesized, metro- 
nome androidism, Eno’s music is more humane than [Roxy Music leader] Bryan Ferry’s ... 
and it’s nice that in his arch, mellow way the man (or even android) is willing to hide some 
politics behind the overdubs.” 13 Henry Edwards called the album “a gleeful combination of 


11 Dagnal, “Eno and the Jets: Controlled Chaos,” 21. 

12 Stephen Demorest, “Eno: the Monkey Wrench of Rock Creates Happy Accidents on Tiger 
Mountain ,” Circus (Apr. 1975), 52. 

13 Robert Christgau, “The Christgau Consumer Guide,” Creem (June 1975), 13. 


100 



wit and insanity,” 14 while Pete Matthews enthusiastically played up its conceptual nature. 15 A 
reviewer in Circus magazine wrote: “Sick! Sick! Sick! But, oh-h-h, it feels so good! ... guar- 
anteed to be put on the ‘Most Wanted’ list by psychopaths everywhere ... [Eno] takes you on a 
dada-ists tour-de-force, lampooning and integrating every type of music conceivable.” 16 
Wayne Robins, while vacillating a bit in his judgement of Eno ’s eclecticism, wrote that “the 
future is a sonic Disney named Eno, who makes music you can live with.” 17 Ed Naha found 
Tiger Mountain disappointing compared to Here Come the Warm Jets: “Much of the Wonder- 
landish magic found on Eno’s first LP is lost on this rocky terrain, being replaced by a dull, 
repetitive aura that is annoying as all hell.” 18 

Eno’s next solo album. Another Green World of 1975, is his progressive rock masterpiece, 
and, appropriately, it is the first album on which he is listed as composer of all the pieces. The 
sequence of tracks is carefully planned, the album being distinctly divided into two halves, 
with Side One representing the timbral and textural manipulations of Eno’s previous solo 
work carried to new heights, and with Side Two consisting of slower, sometimes virtually 
pulseless, softer-edged music that hints strongly at the decisive step Eno was to take in his 
next solo album, the ambient Discreet Music. 

Another Green World represents a turning point in Brian Eno’s career and compositional out- 
put. His previous solo albums had contained songs in a quirky, idiosyncratic progressive rock 
idiom in which the lyrics and vocal delivery, however thoroughly they were worked into the 
total texture, remained the prime focus of interest. In Another Green World , by way of con- 
trast, only five of the total of fourteen pieces have lyrics at all, of the nine that do not, seven 
are pieces in which Eno himself plays all the instalments, predominantly electronic and non- 
electronic keyboards, guitars, and percussion. These instrumental pieces tentatively explore a 
new kind of sound world that is quiet and restful, forming a bridge between Eno’s earlier pro- 
gressive rock songs and his later, wordless works in which texture and timbre are the most 
important musical elements. Later, in 1983, Eno was to acknowledge the transitional nature of 
Another Green World in the following terms: 

The idea of making music that in some way related to a sense of place 
- landscape or environment - had occurred to me many times over the 
last 12 years. My conscious exploration of this way of thinking about 
music probably began with Another Green World in 1975. Since then I 
have become interested in exaggerating and inventing rather than rep- 
licating spaces, and experimenting with various techniques of time dis- 
tortion. 19 


14 Henry Edwards, “Bryan Ferry and Eno: Hot Rockers Rock Apart,” After Dark 8 (June 
1975), 67. 

15 Pete Matthews, “Review: Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy’)', Nico: The End', 
Sparks: Propaganda ,” Records and Recording (Jan. 1975), 60. 

16 “Don’t Overlook These Discs,” Circus (May 1975), 62. 

17 Wayne Robins, “Records: Taking Rock’s Future by Artifice: Roxy Music, Country’ Life', 
Eno, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy ) ,” Creem 6 (Mar. 1975), 67. 

18 Ed Naha, “Review: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy’),” Crawdaddy (May 1975), 76. 

19 Bill Milkowski, “Eno: Excursions in the Electronic Environment,” Down Beat 50 (June 
1983), 15. 


101 



One could characterize Another Green World as a “concept album” in the sense that it pre- 
sents a sequence of pieces clearly arranged with a view to the whole. Side One is the rock 
side, with several songs having the straightforward rhythmic accents and overall sonorities of 
the popular rock song, Side Two, on which only two pieces have lyrics, is the more thor- 
oughly experimental: drums are entirely lacking, tempos are slower, the pulse is sometimes 
non-existent, and the prevailing mixed sonorities follow no rock conventions. 

Another Green World was recorded at Island Studios in London during July and August 1975. 
As on Eno’s other solo albums, the back-up musicians were friends of Eno’s, and every piece 
uses a different combination of instruments. Instrumental credits are conscientiously listed for 
each track. Phil Collins plays drams and percussion, Percy Jones plays fretless bass, Paul Ru- 
dolph plays “anchor bass,” snare drams, “assistant castanet guitars,” and guitar. Rod Melvin 
plays Rhodes piano and acoustic piano, John Cale plays viola and “viola section”, Robert 
Fripp is credited with “Wimshurst guitar,” “restrained lead guitar,” and “Wimborne guitar”, 
Brian Turrington plays bass guitar and pianos, and Eno himself plays synthesizer, “snake gui- 
tar,” “digital guitar,” “desert guitars,” “castanet guitars,” “chord piano,” tape, Farfisa organ, 
Hammond organ, Yamaha bass pedals, synthetic percussion, treated rhythm generator, “Peru- 
vian percussion,” “electric elements and unnatural sounds,” prepared piano, “Leslie piano,” 
“choppy organs, spasmodic percussion, club guitars,” and “uncertain piano.” 

The sometimes fanciful designations used for some of the instalments allow the listener to 
distinguish exactly who is contributing what to the textures, which are often complex but usu- 
ally lucid and transparent. “Castanet guitars,” for instance, are electric guitars played with 
mallets and electronically treated to sound something like castanets, a “Leslie piano” is an 
acoustic piano miked and fed through a Leslie speaker with a built-in revolving horn speaker 
(or through an electronic apparatus designed to produce this effect), “chord piano” distin- 
guishes this instalment from the “lead piano” on the same song. “Snake guitar” was so named 
“because the kind of lines I was playing reminded me of the way a snake moves through the 
biiish, a sort of speedy, forceful, liquid quality. Digital guitar is a guitar threaded through a 
digital delay but fed back on itself a lot so it makes this cardboard tube type of sound.” Before 
recording the “Wimshurst guitar” solo on “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Eno asked Fripp to visualize a 
Wimshurst machine, which is “a device for generating very high voltages which then leap 
between the two poles, very fast and unpredictable.” 20 

Eno viewed the making of Another Green World as an experiment. In order to put the flexibil- 
ity and intelligence of his musicians and himself to the test, he walked into the recording stu- 
dio with nothing written or prepared. “I fed in enough information to get something to happen 
and the chemical equation of the interaction between the various styles of the musicians in- 
volved - who were intelligent enough not to retreat from a situation which was musically 
strange - took us somewhere that we would have been unable to design.” 21 The result of such 
an experiment could easily have been an over-produced, self-indulgent mish-mash, but Eno 
was able to shape the final product into a remarkably economical musical statement: 

Twenty-four-track technology encourages you to keep adding things. 

But there comes a point where adding simply obscures what’s already 


20 Bangs, “Eno,” 42. 

21 Interview by Allan Jones, Melody Maker (29 Nov. 1975), quoted in Eno and Mills, More 
Dark than Shark, 98. 


102 



there, and toward the end of that album [Another Green World] I lis- 
tened to the tracks to see what I could take away. The more you sup- 

22 

ply, the less you demand of a listener. 

There is a simple organizational reason why Another Green World makes a stronger overall 
impression than Eno’s other progressive rock albums: it has six pieces on side one and seven 
on side two, the other three albums all have only five pieces per side, and some of the pieces 
tend to run on a bit, with long fade-outs or inner instrumental sections that add little in the 
way of musical substance. Another Green World is a model of musical concision that benefits 
from the high proportion of purely instrumental tracks and from the extraordinary diversity of 
the music. 

Henry Edwards’s review of Another Green World called the album Eno’s “most accessible to 
date” and went on to declare: “mostly instrumental, the disc features a great many melodic 
themes, some of which are classically oriented.” 23 The theme of the accessibility of Another 
Green World was echoed by Tom Hull, who in his ideological treatment of Eno’s work up to 
1976 wrote, “It wouldn’t be fair to say that Another Green World is Eno’s best album, but 
certainly it is his easiest to love.” 24 

Charley Walters, who in 1976 could still write that “Eno’s eccentric music doesn’t stray be- 
yond rock’s accustomed borders so much as it innovates within those parameters,” did find in 
Another Green World's nine instrumental numbers Eno’s “most radical reshapings of the 
[rock] genre,” and called the album as a whole “perhaps the artist’s most successful record.” 
Walters pinpointed Eno’s “imaginative, even queer arranging” as the factor that saved the 
music from the monotony of “merely pedestrian” melodic lines and rock chord structures. The 
record’s main fault, in Walters’ view, had to do with the pieces that rely too heavily on the 
rhythm box: “synthetic percussion always seems like a cocktail-lounge drum machine - a 
frustrating, though by no means disastrous, distraction on several cuts.” Writing in 1976, it 
would have been difficult for Walters to predict that electronic dram machines, otherwise 
known as rhythm boxes or rhythm generators, would become, in the decade ahead, a staple 
addition to the percussion batteries of many popular acts ranging from disco, soul, and rap to 
mainstream rock and on into jazz-rock fusions and performance art (Laurie Anderson). Today, 
the dram machine, whose range and quality of sounds have been vastly expanded and im- 
proved through digital technology, has completely shaken off its “cocktail lounge” associa- 
tions, and Eno stands out as an early pioneer of its creative use. Walters’ review was placed, 
with a large headline, at the beginning of the “Records” section in the issue of Rolling Stone 
in which it appeared - an indication of the editor’s perception of its importance. Walters sums 
up: “Eno insists on risks, and that they so consistently pan out is a major triumph. I usually 
shudder at such a description, but Another Green World is indeed an important record - and 
also a brilliant one.” 25 

Alexander Austin and Steve Erickson, in an article on rock in the 1970s, called Eno 


22 Stephen Demorest, “The Discreet Charm of Brian Eno: An English Pop Theorist Seeks to 
Redefine Music,” Horizon 21 (June 1978), 85. 

23 Henry Edwards, “Records: Another Green World," High Fidelity (June 1976), 101. 

24 Tom Hull, “Eno Races Toward the New World,” Village Voice 21 (12 Apr. 1976), 88. 

25 Charley Walters, “Records: Eno’s Electronic Sonic Exotica: Another Green World," Roll- 
ing Stone 212 (6 May 1976), 67-8. 


103 



nothing less than one of the three or four most important pop artists 
[of] this decade ... Eno’s records are filled with vitality and fun, shim- 
mering like the sun on a lake at dusk, creating atmospheres of shadow 
and occasional glimpses, such as in his masterpieces Taking Tiger 
Mountain (By Strategy) and Another Green World. His music is as 

much akin to Debussy or Satie in their impressionistic periods as to 

26 

any current pop avant-gardist, and yet pop his music certainly is.' 

Arthur Lubow noted that “Like many Eno compositions, ‘Another Green World’ [the song] 
has the pictorial vividness of program music. As it opens, the scientific smoke is blowing 
away, permitting the outlines of a new Eden to come into sharper focus. Before and After Sci- 
ence [Eno’s next progressive rock album] amplifies the picture.” 7 Lubow hit on an important 
point here: Eno’s compositional process, even in purely instrumental works, relies heavily on 
visual imagery, and he chooses his titles with great care, believing they cannot but influence 
the listener’s perception of the music. Stephen Demorest called the album 

a potpourri of haunting sounds, living aural landscapes populated by 
grating noises dubbed sky-saws and by delicate, fleeting fragments - 
the musical equivalents of haiku. Several of the tracks seem like unfin- 
ished arrangements, far more interesting than the more traditional pop 
tunes on the LP ... Their most charming common element is minimal- 
ness, a spare, floating quality that shows Eno moving directly contrary 
to conventional rock’s thickly layered, tyranically thrusting 
“grooves .” 28 

Mikal Gilmore observed that Another Green World “lacks [the] demonic cutting edge [of 
Eno’s previous solo albums] (the brilliant ‘Sky Saw’ is the one exception.)” Gilmore writes 
with rather a greater command of musical terminology than most reviewers, here, in a review 
that characterizes Eno as “an atypical rocker, clearly an artist first, and a pop figure only in 
the extension of an artistic gesture,” he noted that 

the best of the instrumentals bear comparison to Ornette Coleman’s 
prescription (in Skies of America) for music that can begin or end at 
any given juncture, a formula that necessarily belies traditional con- 
ceptions of progression and resolution ... Utilizing a corral of key- 
boards and tape loop systems, Eno builds broad, overlapping levels of 
interrelated chord structures and simple melodic motifs, which could 
(and do) repeat indefinitely. Move-ment is limited to a gradual addi- 
tion and subtraction of layers, and Eno’s tendency to favor such spa- 


26 Alexander Austin and Steve Erickson, “On Music: Tell George Orwell the News,” West- 
ways 72 (Jan. 1980), 70. 

27 Arthur Lubow, “Eno, Before and After Roxy,” New Times 10 (6 March 1978), 72. 

28 Demorest, “Discreet Charm of Eno,” 84-5. 


104 



cious harmonic support often negates the impression of chord changes, 
imparting a modal illusion . 29 

Jon Pareles, who subsequently was to write a number of more extended critiques of Eno, was 
initially puzzled by Eno’s new direction on Another Green World. His short review is given 
here in its entirety: “This ain’t no Eno record. I don’t care what the credits say. It doesn’t even 
get on my nerves.” 30 The implication is that Pareles missed the raw, abrasive, progressive rock 
sound of Eno’s first two solo albums, which had served him as a kind of mental stimulant, he 
found the more poppish tunes and non-rock electronic excursions of Another Green World 
less palatable. 

Lester Bangs had something of a similar reaction: 

I found much of it a bit too, well, “Becalmed,” as one of its precisely 
programmatic titles declared. Those little pools of sound on the out- 
skirts of silence seemed to me the logical consequence of letting the 
processes and technology share your conceptual burden - twilight mu- 
sic perfectly suited to the passivity Eno’s approach cultivates ... Me, 

I’m a modern guy, but not so modern I don’t still like music with really 
heavily defined content that you can actively listen to in the fore- 
ground . 31 

Bangs’s difficulty with pieces exhibiting little distinction between foreground and background 
is a theme that runs through portions of the published criticism, representing one kind of sub- 
jective reaction to an important feature of Eno’s music, and, one might add, of much of the 
music of the last two decades that has been labelled “minimalism.” 

Eno’s final solo progressive rock album. Before and after Science, was two years in the mak- 
ing. At the time, Eno was involved with a number of other projects, including his ambient- 
style records Discreet Music and Music for Films, but he was also faced with, and a bit in- 
timidated by, the acclaim for Another Green World', he wanted to produce another landmark in 
rock innovation, but was afraid of repeating himself, and did not want to stop short of perfec- 
tion. Over a hundred songs and soundscapes were recorded, fiddled with, remixed, and re- 
jected. Ultimately Eno had to put a stop to this painful process - it is said that an artist never 
completes a work, only abandons it - and released a sparkling yet somewhat brooding set of 
ten pieces manifesting a broad stylistic spread, made with the help of fifteen backup musi- 
cians. There are a couple of hard-driving rock songs whose words Eno spits out forcefully, 
“Kurt’s Rejoinder” is a small-scale jazz piece in something like an electronic be-bop style, 
“Here He Comes” is a soft ballad, the percussionless “Julie With...” uses broad, reverberating 
cascades of synthesizer colors that evoke the seashore scene the lyrics are about, “By this 


29 Mikal Gilmore, “Record Reviews: Another Green World, Discreet Music, Evening Star,” 
Down Beat 43 (21 Oct. 1976), 26. 

30 Jon Pareles, “Records: Another Green World,” Crawdaddy (June 1976), 78. 

31 Lester Bangs, “Eno Sings with the Fishes,” Village Voice 23 (3 Apr. 1978), 49. Bangs even- 
tually came around to a much more positive view of even Eno’s most quiet, non-foreground 
music, see his “Eno,” Musician, Player & Listener 21 (Nov. 1979). In fact, Eno became 
something of an obsession for him, Robert Fripp informed me that Bangs was working on a 
book about Eno at the time of his death. 


105 



River,” a collaboration with members of the German synthesizer group Cluster, uses only pi- 
ano, electric pianos, voice, and a melodic synthesizer line, in a stripped-down texture that 
anticipates the prevailing sonorities of 1 978 ’s Music for Airports', “Through Hollow Lands” is 
entirely instrumental, and “Spider and I,” the last song on the album, is a grand synthesizer 
hymn, moving through harmonic progressions in solemn stateliness, with a short enigmatic 
lyric placed in the middle. Like Another Green World, the order of pieces was planned with a 
view to the whole, and like the earlier record also, the conceptual progression here runs from 
rock frenetics to calm, contemplative music. 

The music of Before And A fter Science drove some reviewers in the rock press to new heights 
of metaphor. Joe Fernbacher wrote: “Brian Eno is mechanized anathema. The sounds of Eno 
are the collected sounds of some sentient alien seltzer busily digesting a greasy heart that’s too 
big for its own cogs.” He liked the record, though, calling it “the perfect Eno album.” 32 The 
“alien” image, which had been growing around Eno since his first solo album, was used once 
more by Mitchell Schneider: “Brian Eno is an agent from some other time and some other 
place who seems to know something that we don’t but should ... I can’t remember the last 
time a record took such a hold of me - and gave such an extreme case of vertigo, too.”’ 3 Rus- 
sell Shaw enthused: “What a wonderland of a zoo, a cross between steaming smoke, atonal 
mystery and hanging, frothy ditties ... This is another typically awesome, stunning, numbing 
Brian Eno album - the record Pink Floyd could make if they set their collective mind to it.” 34 

In 1977 Eno was at the height of his esteem in the rock press. A few writers criticized individ- 
ual works, but as to his overall approach and the resulting music, it seemed he could do no 
wrong. He had pushed back the limits of rock, had established a secure place in the music 
industry, had collaborated with some of rock’s greatest innovators, and had charmed the crit- 
ics with his endless stream of theorizing about rock and art. By this time, though, he had al- 
ready established the bases of his ambient style with the records to be discussed in Chapter 
10. As his interest in non-rock styles increased, his feeling for the primacy of rock as a me- 
dium decreased, and many critics in the press, bound to their readerships and to the canonical 
musical principles of rock itself, were unable or unwilling to follow him into the new territory 
he had opened up. 


32 Joe Fernbacher, “Records: Before and A fter Science,” Creem 9 (Apr. 1978), 67. 

33 Mitchell Schneider, “Brave New Eno: Before and After Science,” Crawdaddy 84 (May 
1978), 64. 

34 Russell Shaw, “Record Reviews: Before and After Science,” Down Beat 45 (13 July 1978), 
36. 


106 



CHAPTER NINE: 

ENO’S PROGRESSIVE ROCK: THE MUSIC 


The pieces on Eno’s four solo progressive rock albums are of five basic types. Prominent in 
the early albums are “assaultive” songs that bowl over the listener with a hard rock attack - 
distorted electric guitars, a hard, driving beat, an almost saturated acoustical space, and a stri- 
dent, shouted vocal quality - and with lyrics that feature aggressive, futuristic, sexual, bizarre 
or surrealistic imagery. The second type of song, never dominating but always present in each 
of these albums, is best described as “pop,” involving lighter textures, less distorted timbres, a 
more relaxed vocal delivery used in conjunction with suaver melodies - in a word, a more 
Top 40 sound. To view these pieces merely as pop songs, however, would be misleading, for 
Eno’s intent is frequently ironic: by combining light music with ambiguous or sarcastic lyrics, 
he achieves a peculiar clash of contexts. 

A third class of songs, embracing a considerable variety of musical approaches, is the 
“strange.” These are songs in which Eno allows his imagination free reign to play with the 
elements of rock, pop, and jazz, resulting in unique combinations of textures and timbral 
qualities, frequently in conjunction with dark, irrational verbal imagery. Some such songs 
evoke our sense of the weird, the demonic, the grotesque or frightful, others are wistful, 
vaguely menacing, or dreamlike. The quality of “strangeness” in other songs hinges on a clash 
of contexts, for instance a puzzling, enigmatic text over a deceptively carefree (though not 
exactly “pop”) musical accompaniment. 

The fourth type of song is characterized by simple, slow vocal melodies, and broad, diatonic, 
harmonic textures played on synthesizers programmed to sound like church organs or string 
sections, I call this type “hymn-like.” The aesthetic of these songs points forward to the non- 
vocal ambient style Eno was working on from the time of his collaboration with Robert Fripp 
on the 1973 album No Pussyfooting', it also refers back to the player piano hymns of Eno’s 
childhood. 

The final type of piece is the instrumental. More a generic than a stylistic category, Eno’s in- 
strumentals on these albums may be classed as pop, strange, and ambient. These pieces are 
forerunners of Eno’s systematic explorations of non-vocal musical textures found on later 
albums like On Land and Apollo. 

In Chart 1 (see following pages) the pieces on each album are listed by type, and thus the 
overall character of each record can be seen at a glance. Particularly striking are the prepon- 
derance of assaultive songs on the first two records, the total absence of such songs on An- 
other Green World , and the tendency to close out each album with hymn-like songs and in- 
strumental pieces: Eno was evidently seeking something of an “Amen” effect for each of the 
four cycles. 


107 



Chart 1 

Compositional Types on Eno's 
Solo Progressive Rock Albums 


Here Come the Warm Jets (1973) 

SIDE ONE 

Needles in the Camel's Eye - assaultive 
The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch - assaultive 
Baby' s on Fire - assaultive 
Cindy Tells Me - pop 
Driving Me Backwards - strange 

SIDE TWO 

On Some Faraway Beach - pop/strange 

Blank Frank - assaultive 

Dead Finks Don't Talk - strange 

Some of Them Are Old - hymn-like 

Here Come the Warm Jets - (instrumental) pop 

Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974) 

SIDE ONE 

Burning Airlines Give You So Much More - pop 

Back in Judy' s Jungle - pop 

The Fat Lady of Limbourg - strange 

Mother Whale Eyeless - pop 

The Great Pretender - strange 

SIDE TWO 

Third Uncle - assaultive 

Put A Straw Under Baby - pop/strange 

The True Wheel - assaultive 

China My China - assaultive 

Taking Tiger Mountain - hymn-like 


108 



Another Green World (1975) 


SIDE ONE 

Sky Saw - strange 

Over Fire Island - (instrumental) strange 
St. Elmo's Fire - pop 

In Dark Trees - (instrumental) strange 

The Big Ship - (instrumental) strange 

I'll Come Running - pop/strange 

Another Green World - (instrumental) ambient 

SIDE TWO 

Sombre Reptiles - (instrumental) strange 
Little Fishes - (instrumental) strange 
Golden Hours - pop/strange 
Becalmed - (instrumental) ambient 
Zawinul Lava - (instrumental) ambient 
Everything Merges with the Night - strange 
Spirits Drifiting - (instrumental) ambient 

Before and After Science (1977) 

SIDE ONE 

No One Receiving - assaultive 
Backwater - assaultive/pop 
Kurt's Rejoinder - strange 

Energy Fools the Magician - (instrumental) ambient 
King' s Lead Hat - assaultive 

SIDE TWO 

Here He Comes - pop 
Julie With... - strange 
By This River - strange 

Through Hollow Lands - (instrumental) ambient 
Spider and I - hymn-like 


109 



Assaultive Rock Songs 


Assaulting the audience with a barrage of very loud distorted sound and violent lyrics is part 
of the rock tradition. The real target of the assault, of course, is not the audience itself, but the 
musicians’ and audience’s “other”: those aspects of reality - whether this means the older 
generation, the political establishment, rival youth cultures, or a lover/enemy - whose nega- 
tive influence is deemed to be irreconcilable with the attainment of selfhood. The electric gui- 
tar itself, with its potential for a lacerating, buzz-saw sonic attack, can be a phallic weapon 
wielded against those who would squelch the individual’s aggressive, defiant gestures towards 
absolute freedom and dominance. 

The history of rock has seen waves of assaultive sound-types crash against and wear away the 
shore of the musically acceptable, each wave seemingly more violent, more absolutely noise- 
like than the last: the electric guitar sonorities of black musicians like Chuck Berry and 
Muddy Waters in the 1950s, the fuzz-tone menace of mid-1960s songs like the Rolling 
Stones’ “Satisfaction”, the bass-heavy, cavernous, ear-splitting heavy metal sound pioneered 
by Led Zeppelin in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the vengefully, violently, deliberately 
anti-musical cacophany of late-1970s punk. 

Eno’s adoption of the assaultive sound-ideal was not an unpremeditated, instinctive act, as it 
has been for so many rock musicians. Even early in his career he was making music about 
music: his pieces are part of a process of distancing, they are once removed from the unre- 
flected level of everyday rock realities and myths. He has never espoused violence except at 
the artistic level, and it is just at this level that the images and textures of his assaultive songs 
play themselves out. 

The lyrics of the assaultive Eno song tend to be macabre and disturbing, evoking a general- 
ized malaise not directed at anything in particular, and thus lacking the confrontational, us- 
against-them dialectic of much assaultive rock. “The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch” ( Warm 
Jets), in Eno’s words, “celebrates the possibility of a love affair” with a man “who emerged 
from the forests around Paw Paw, Michigan with a strange ailment - his breath caused things 
to ignite.” 1 “Baby’s On Fire” ( Warm Jets) is a bizarre fantasy about a photography session 
involving a burning infant and unthinking, laughing onlookers - possibly referring to the na- 
palm tragedies of the Vietnam War. “Blank Frank”‘s ( Warm Jets) hero, in the words of the 
song, “is the messenger of your doom and your destruction [like Dylan’s “Wicked Messen- 
ger” on John Wesley Harding ?] ... His particular skill is leaving bombs in people’s drive- 
ways.” Birds of prey, headless chickens, zombies, dead finks, opium farmers, suicidal China- 
men, deadly black waters, fallen meteors, dark alleys, guns, weapons, satellites, black stars, 
and burning fingers, toes, airlines, uncles, books, and shoes: such evil images restlessly prowl 
through Eno’s assaultive rock songs, often disconnected from any logical or comprehensible 
sequence of events, shadowing the barely controlled logic of the musical presentation. 

Here Come the Warm Jets opens Eno’s solo career with a sonic assault, though the lyrics to 
“Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” if ambiguous and vague, evoke a spiritual quest with overtones 
both Christian and Taoist (Eno’s “All mysteries are just more needles in the camel’s eye” de- 


1 Brian Eno and Russell Mills, More Dark than Shark (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), 16. 


110 




rives from Jesus’ words “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a 
rich man to enter the Kingdom of God,” while “Those who know don’t let it show” rephrases 
Lao-Tzu’s “He who knows, speaks not, he who speaks knows not”) 2 more than a tormented 
expressionistic journey to the hell of the unconscious. Layers of distorted electric guitars 
(which point directly back to the early Who and straight forward to punk), the shouted, plung- 
ing vocal, and the use of a single chord progression throughout (||: 1 | IV V | I | IV V | I | V | 
bVII | IV :||) set up a continuous river or lava-flow of sound that is broken only in the instru- 
mental middle section of the song. The aggressive nature of the musical setting works effec- 
tively to counter-balance the earnest sentiment of the lyrics. Characteristically, if unrealisti- 
cally, Eno tries to dissuade us from reading too much into the lyrics: the words were “written 
in less time than it takes to sing. The word ‘Needles’ was picked up from the guitar sound 
which to me is reminiscent of a cloud of metal needles ... I regard [the song] as an instrumen- 
tal with singing on it.” 3 

Another assaultive “instrumental with singing on it,” whose lyrics probably can be ignored, or 
at least left uninterpreted, is “Third Uncle” (Tiger Mountain). Here the words were undoubt- 
edly arrived at through free phonetic and linguistic association, Eno singing nonsense bits 
along with the instrumental tracks: they consist of litanies of randomly chosen words set to 
formulas like “There are tins/There was pork/There are legs/There are sharks/There was 
John/There are cliffs/There was mother/There’s a poker/There was you/Then there was you,” 
delivered like a spoken magical chant in a tone of voice than takes on menace thr ough its very 
lack of coloration. “Third Uncle” is an example of Eno restricting himself to minimal har- 
monic materials (||: 1 | bVI :||) throughout the five-minute duration in order to bring melodic, 
textural, and rhythmic elements to the fore. (There is one slight harmonic complication: to- 
wards the middle, the bass begins playing the note Ab while the guitars are playing their C 
major tonic, creating the suggestion of an augmented chord, when the guitars switch to Ab 
major, the bass moves to C. The whole-tone feel is further heightened by Phil Manzanera’s 
animated guitar solos, which have a motive that rotates the notes C, E, and F#.) As the song 
goes on, the interest shifts from the back-and-forth rapid strummings of the two rhythm gui- 
tars to the increasingly noise-like careenings of the lead guitar. Although such repetitive 
songs, in which fixed elements alternate and vie for attention, may be worlds apart from Eno’s 
later ambient music in terms of sound (being loud and abrasive rather than soft and yeilding), 
they are not really so very different in concept. 

Eno adopted three basic approaches to form in his songs. “Needles in the Camel’s Eye” and 
“Third Uncle” both utilize theme and variations form, in which an unchanging harmonic pro- 
gression is repeated with vocal and/or instrumental textural variants. The second approach is 
that most frequently used in rock and pop: a strophic structure with or without refrain, and 
with some kind of contrasting instrumental or vocal “bridge” or “B section” placed typically 
between the second and third verses. The third formal approach is best described as through- 
composed: formal units, though they may be repeated altered or unaltered, follow one another 
in a design unique to the given work. (In traditional classical music, pieces that have no stan- 
dard set form such as sonata, theme and variations, etc., are said to be “through-composed.”) 


2 The biblical quotation is from Matthew 19:24. The translation of Lao-Tzu is from R.H. 
Blyth, Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics (New York: Dutton, 1960), 141. 

3 Eno and Mills, More Dark than Shark, 14. 


Ill 



“King’s Lead Hat” (Science), a song whose title is an anagram of “Talking Heads,” is of the 
strophic type, built around a pattern of sectionalized verses, with an instrumental middle sec- 
tion: 


112 



Example 1 


Form of "King' s Lead Hat" 


A: 

v ! 

bVI I | I | I 

B: 

i 1 

I | vi | vi 

C: 

i 1 

I 1 I 1 I 

D: 

v | 

IV | I | I | 


AAAAAA: Instrumental fade-in. 

BBBBAA: Verse 1 with refrain 

BBBBAA: Verse 2 with refrain 

BBBB : Instrumental with guitar solo 

CC : Instrumental with guitar solo 

BBBBAA: Verse 3 with refrain 

AA: Refrains repeated 

DDDDDD: Instrumental fade-out with synthesizer solo 


“King’s Lead Hat” is the last manic screamer that Eno put out on his solo albums, although it 
is convincing enough as a rock piece, the aesthetic of chaos implicit in the verbal and musical 
attack was something he saw no point in taking further. How much further, after all, could it 
be taken? This song, though well crafted in its way - Robert Fripp’s syncopated, pitch- 
restricted minimalistic guitar solo adds an element of cerebrated discipline to the Dionysian 
mayhem, while Eno’s synthesizer solo at the end represents the last word in “funny” elec- 
tronic sounds in an assaultive rock medium - says little that “Needles in the Camel’s Eye” did 
not say four years earlier with somewhat greater economy. “King’s Lead Hat” is more compli- 
cated than the earlier song, both verbally and musically, but complication in this genre is dif- 
ficult to reconcile with the primal force that gives it life. 

Nevertheless, it is true that what I am calling the assaultive rock idiom has a great deal of ex- 
pressive musical potential that Eno, precisely because of his lack of instrumental expertise, 
and because of the limits of his knowledge of music theory, was disinclined to explore. Heavy 
metal groups, with the possible exception of Led Zeppelin, have not fared much better in this 
regard, though one suspects that in many cases both commercial pressures and lack of imagi- 
nation have contributed to the musical stagnation of the genre. The pinnacle of intelligence 
and imagination in the assaultive rock medium remains Robert Fripp and King Crimson’s 
album Red of 1974: working with a peerless guitar technique, a command of music theory 
that enabled him to draw freely on whole-tone and other unusual scales (and construct large- 
scale tonal structures outside the conventional major-minor idiom), and an adventurous 
rhythmic sense that led him to integrate into his pieces odd meters based on five and seven 
beats per measure, Fripp extended the medium far beyond what was possible for Eno. Like 
Eno, however, he abruptly dropped it and went on to a variety of other musical projects in an 
assortment of styles. For both musicians, it is unlikely that the decision to cut off further ex- 
perimentation in the genre was a purely musical one: heavy metal in the late 1970s and 1980s 
became increasingly associated with cynically commercialized satanic symbolism and with 


113 



with a very young, loud, and primarily male audience, with whom neither Fripp nor Eno were 
especially keen on cultivating a continuing relationship. 


Pop Songs 

“Pop” is a term that has been used with many different shades of meaning. It does not trans- 
late well to or from languages other than English, it carries different connotations whether 
used in reference to Anglo-American art or music, and in England, the conceptual split be- 
tween pop and rock seems somewhat more pronounced than in the United States. A workable 
definition of “pop” for our purposes, however, is provided by the reference work endorsed by 
one of pop/rock’s enduring publishing institutions: 

Pop is the melodic side of rock - the legacy of show tunes and popular 
songs of the prerock era. Pop’s standards of what makes a well- 
constructed song still apply to much of rock, which strives for memo- 
rable tunes and clear sentiments, the tension between pop virtues (such 
as sophisticated chord structures and unusual melodic twists), and in- 
cantatory, formulaic blues elements animates much of the best rock, 
like that of the Beatles. “Pop” also connotes accessibility, disposability 
and other low-culture values, which rockers have accepted or rejected 
with varying degrees of irony . 4 

There is a further stylistic distinction to be made between pop and rock: pop songs tend to be 
based on more “realistic” instrumental sounds than rock - that is, sounds less manipulated or 
distorted through electronic processes. In terms of production values, the formula rock=dirty 
while pop=clean may be oversimplified, but has a certain validity. While absolute volume 
levels can be determined by the listener on his or her stereo system, pop will sound psycho- 
logically softer than rock played at the same level. Rock is aggressive, sometimes even as- 
saultive, in pop, the tendency is toward a more intimate, confidential tone. Obviously the po- 
tential for irony is high if what is being confided by the singer is of a non-personal, incompre- 
hensible, ambiguous, or even slightly perverted nature. 

Some such irony is usually what Eno was after in the pop songs on his progressive rock al- 
bums, an effect evident even in some of the titles which cover music of a deceptively innocu- 
ous sort: “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More,” “Back in Judy’s Jungle,” “Mother 
Whale Eyeless.” One is reminded once more of Satie, with his penchant for absurd titles. 

“Cindy Tells Me” ( Warm Jets ) by Eno and Manzanera is a Beatlesque example of musical 
irony. While a poppish backing track replete with falsetto “oohs” and a tinkling piano runs 
through a cliched set of chord changes, slightly spiced with a treated electric guitar, the singer 
tells a sad story of modern times in which affluent housewives cannot cope with “their new 
freedoms”, although they have supposedly chosen their fate, it turns out that it is just a “bur- 
den to be so relied on.” The British pop/rock tradition of lightly lampooning the middle class 
was well established when Eno wrote this song, going back to songs like the Kinks’ “Well 


4 Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, eds., The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll 
(New York: Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 983), 437. 


114 



Respected Man,” about a punctual personage whose daily routines never change, and the 
Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper,” in which prescribed drugs help the housewife 
“minimize her plight.” At three and a half minutes, “Cindy Tells Me” fits neatly into the 
smallish duration requisite of a pop song, and its form - sung and instrumental verse sections 
alternating with a bridge - is likewise conventional. 

“Put a Straw Under Baby” ( Tiger Mountain) is incomprehensible until one realizes that the 
title refers to the Catholic practice Eno was induced to carry out in his childhood of doing 
homage to the infant Jesus by placing a piece of straw under an icon. The song is not so much 
a satire as an attempt to capture the mixed effect such fathomless rituals are likely to have on 
a child’s consciousness. The kindergarten innocence of the musical setting - highlighted by 
the organ, which evokes images of church and fairground - is belied by the bizarre content of 
some of the lyrics, in which the child has woven incomprehensible Christian symbols together 
with stories he has been told into a surrealistic personal mythological tapestry: “There’s a 
place in the orchard/Where no one dare go/The last nun who went there/Turned into a crow ... 
There’s a brain in the table/There’s a heart in the chair/And they all live in Jesus/It’s a family 
affair.” Eno used the (intentionally out-of-tune) Portsmouth Sinfonia string section and his 
own slightly cracked falsetto in this song to add to the atmosphere of childhood foreboding. 

“St. Elmo’s Fire” ( Green World) is the most unblushingly poppish song Eno has ever commit- 
ted to record - it was doubtless prominent in the minds of those critics who called Another 
Green World Eno’s most accessible album - and it is a considerable puzzle why he did not 
release it as a single, as it seems to have most of the ingredients of a popular hit: conventional 
verse/refrain form, a lively beat, simple major tonality, pleasant and unobjectionable though 
original instrumentation, a dynamic guitar solo, suave falsetto harmonies on the refrain, and - 
most importantly - a genuine melodic/lyrical hook in the refrain (the words “In the blue Au- 
gust moon/In the cool August moon”). If the song lacks one crucial element for the hit parade, 
it is the earthiness and sensuality of explicit romantic interest: “St. Elmo’s Fire” is a love song 
of a sort, but its imagery is too rarefied for the Top 40, telling of a couple’s metaphorical jour- 
ney through moors, briars, endless blue meanders, fires, wires, highways and storms (“Then 
we rested in a desert/Where the bones were white as teeth sir/And we saw St. Elmo’s 
fire/Splitting ions in the ether”). “St. Elmo’s Fire” is completely non-ironic, a beautiful pop 
song that accepts and embraces the limitations of the medium. 

Only two musicians took part in making the song. Eno plays organ, piano, Yamaha bass ped- 
als, “desert guitars,” and synthetic percussion (including tom-tom-dnim-like and wood-block- 
like effects, whose driving rhythms compensate for the lack of actual drums), while Robert 
Fripp adds the “Wimshurst guitar” solo whose genesis has been described above (see p. 102). 
Overall, the texture in “St. Elmo’s Fire” is more dense than usual for Eno, but this is in keep- 
ing with the song’s more popular nature. At three minutes, it does not overstay its welcome. 
The song’s form is easily schematized: 

Example 2 

Form of "St. Elmo's Fire" 

- Introduction (cumulative entrance of instruments) 

- Verse 1 (over major tonic chord) 

- Refrain (over | : vi V IV : | progression) 

- Verse 2 


115 



- Refrain 

- Verse 3 (Wimshurst guitar warms up in background) 

- Wimshurst guitar solo (over Refrain chords) 

- Refrain 

- Fade-out over tonic chord 


Straightforward as it is harmonically, rhythmically, melodically, and formally, Eno was correct 
in pointing out that songs like this cannot be reductively analyzed in such terms alone: “You 
can’t notate the sound of “St. Elmo’s Fire.” 5 (Emphasis mine.) 

Perhaps Eno’s most soothing song of the pop variety is “Here He Comes” (Science). An end- 
less stream of tonics, dominants, and subdominants wash across the listener while muted 
drums, basses, guitars, and synthesizers contribute their pastel tone colors to the mix. Once 
again, the ambiguity of the lyrics, about “the boy who tried to vanish to the future or past,” 
who “is no longer here with us with his sad blue eyes,” takes this song out of the realm of 
unreflected pop, but this type of song does have clear precedents, such as the Beatles’ “No- 
where Man,” written a decade earlier: “Nowhere Man” and “Here He Comes” have the same 
tempo and harmonic similarities, and share the idea of a wistful masculine anti-hero. While 
the Lennon tune is based on a descending melodic sequence, however, Eno’s is a prolongation 
or embellishment of essentially one note. Whether, at five and a half minutes, “Here He 
Comes” must be judged too long depends on the receptivity of the listener and the mode of 
listening. In the linear, horizontal mode, little or nothing seems to “happen” for the piece’s 
duration, but listened to vertically, the song reveals a perpetual play of timbral and motivic 
elements: strip away the drums, voice, and steady pulse, and we are not far from the ambient 
style. 


Strange Songs 

It was probably Eno’s proclivity for creating specialized “strange” songs that more than any- 
thing else led to the congealing of his public image as the “cadaver we’ve all come to love 
and recognize ... the scaramouche of the synthesizer.” 6 Lester Bangs could describe him as 
“the real bizarro warp factor for 1974,” in an age of rock star transvestitism, glam and glitter. 7 
There was more to Eno’s penchant for transgressing the bounds of taste and custom than 
dressing and grooming himself like a woman in order to express his feminine side: his strange 
pieces are arguably the most original of all his songs, since in them he felt most free to ex- 
periment with the elements of musical style. 

Eno did not exactly create the strange genre. Precursors of a sort can be found in that peren- 
nial presence on the pop charts, the novelty song, of which may be cited examples as diverse 
as Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers’ “Monster Mash” (1962), Arthur Brown’s 
inimitable “Fire” (1968) and Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (1966), with its 
punning “Everybody must get stoned” refrain. There is even a specific “demented” tradition 
in rock - catalogued, popularized, and celebrated by Dr. Demento for his syndicated radio 


5 Glenn O’Brien, “Eno at the Edge of Rock,” Andy Warhol’s Interview 8 (June 1978), 31. 

6 Dagnal, “Eno and the Jets: Controlled Chaos,” 16. 

7 Bangs, “Records: Here Come the Warm Jets 62. 


116 



show, featuring such immortal monuments to musical bad taste and kitsch as “Little Puppy” 
and “Living with a Hernia.” Analogs to Eno’s strange genre might also be found in nine- 
teenth-century compositions like Liszt’s Totentanz (“Dance of Death”) or in the horrors of 
expressionist pieces like Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire or The Book of the Hanging Gardens - 
pieces whose utterly humorless sense of dread in some respects parallels Eno’s strange contri- 
butions more closely than does the slapstick grotesquerie of the novelty or demented song. 

“Strange” in the sense the term is used here may carry the connotation of the conceptually 
weird, or it may simply mean highly unusual, highly individuated in a musical sense, the total 
sound texture owing little to specific generic compositional precedents. It is in the same sense 
that much of the material on such progressive rock albums of the same period as Gentle Gi- 
ant’s Octopus or King Crimson’s Larks ’ Tongues in Aspic may be classed as “strange.” The 
conecptually weird and the musically individuated, however, often overlap in the same piece. 

Such is the case in “Driving Me Backwards” ( Warm Jets). A near-psychotic din is created by 
Eno’s relentless hammering on a piano that is out of tune (or electronically treated to sound 
so), the double-tracked vocal (widely used in rock since the early 1960s to add depth and col- 
oration to a single singer’s voice, double tracking here serves as an almost literal metaphor of 
the schizophrenic personality), the thudding, boomy bass, and Fripp’s metallically treated 
electric guitar machinations. The lyrics consist of inexplicable, tormented expressionistic out- 
bursts: “Ah Luana’s black reptiles/Sliding around/Make chemical choices/And she responds 
as expected/To the only sound/Hysterical voices.” Eno’s own exegesis of “Driving Me Back- 
wards,” written some dozen years after the fact, is a model of rationality. He called the song 

a mixture of a series of thoughts about controlled existence - the desir- 
ability of being stripped of choice if you like ... [The song] has a com- 
bination of qualities that would not have been arrived at by anyone 
else, since it is the product of my musical naivete on the one hand, and 
my ability to manipulate extant ideas on the other. In this track as in 
most of the others [on the album], the musical idea is very simple - 
there are only three chords, each different from the other by only one 
note [C minor, A diminished, and Ab major], there are no tempo 
changes and the tempo [sic] is simply 4/4. 1 enjoy working with simple 
structures such as these for they are transparent - comparable to a 
piece of graph paper and its grids. The grid serves as the reference 

g 

point for the important information - the graph line itself. 

We are fortunate to have an artist so willing and eager to take us into his workshop, though in 
this case the contradiction between the strict rationality of the process and the overpowering 
irrationality of the product may seem extreme to the point of absurdity. Music history, how- 
ever, shows us numerous composers who have been able to explain and articulate at a very 
rational level the logic of their techniques - techniques used, however, in the service of a 
powerfully expressive intent. Alban Berg, with the formidably logical forms and pitch struc- 
tures of his nevertheless almost wantonly expressionist opera Wozzeck, may be cited as an 
example. 


8 Eno and Mills, More Dark than Shark, 22. 


117 



Not so ferocious as “Driving Me Backwards,” but strange in its way, “The Fat Lady of Lim- 
bourg” {Tiger Mountain) is Eno’s contribution to the “spy song” genre that has produced such 
classics as “Peter Gunn,” “Gold finger,” and “Secret Agent Man.” An air of tongue-in-cheek 
mystery and spookiness is established through an economical, airy, minimalistic texture in 
which every isolated musical event can be clearly heard. Single blows on a gong establish a 
conceptual connection to the “China” theme of the rest of the album, while understated saxo- 
phone breaks heighten the low-life atmosphere. 

Some of the basic premises of Another Green World as a whole are set out on the first track, 
“Sky Saw”: active, yet clearly distinguishable instrumental parts, making for sparkling clarity 
of texture, few words, a simple repeated harmonic framework (||: I | V | bVII | IV :||), 9 using 
the inverted circle-of-fifths progressions common in rock music at least since Jimi Hendrix’s 
“Hey Joe” of 1968; 10 and in the realm of tone color, a combination of the familiar and the 
electronically exotic. 

In “Sky Saw”‘s overall texture, in spite of the rock-like rhythmic drive, nothing actually re- 
mains constant except for Paul Rudolph’s “anchor bass,” which hits the chord roots regularly 
in a simple rhythmic pattern. On top of this, the other parts are striking for their constant 
changes, Percy Jones’s fretless bass playing melodic arabesques, Phil Collins’s drumming 
never falling into a real “groove,” Rod Melvin’s Rhodes piano hitting notes that are panned 
rapidly back and forth between left and right stereo channels, John Cale’s violas entering late 
in the song with downward-careening glissandi, and Eno’s own “snake guitar” and “digital 
guitar” supplying the indescribably rich, overtone-flexing “melodic” grating sounds that rep- 
resent the “Sky Saw” of the song’s title. 

“Sky Saw” is essentially in variation form, the theme being the four-measure harmonic 
framework, and the variations consisting of timbral and textural elaborations. Within this 
scheme, additional formal articulation is provided by the cumulative addition of instruments, 
rising dynamics, and complication of melodic and timbral interest, all contributing to a cres- 
cendo of musical density. Finally, after five instrumental variations, comes the belated en- 
trance of the lyrics: “All the clouds turn to words/All the words float in sequence/No one 
knows what they mean/Everyone just ignores them.” These words, which comprise the total- 
ity of the coherent text, indicate Eno’s growing dissatisfaction with lyrics in general (he was 
to abandon them in his solo work after one more album of songs, Before and After Science of 
1977), while simultaneously embodying his philosophy of lyric-writing, which valued the 
sheer sound of the words over the semantic meanings of their combinations. In the context of 
“Sky Saw,” Eno highlights the equivalence of words and music by singing, “All the clouds [of 
sound] turn to words...,” phrases emerging out of what the listener had suspected would be an 
all-instrumental piece, and as if to confirm the idea, the text proper is accompanied by back- 
ground voices singing strings of phonetic, free-associative nonsense poetry: “Mau mau starter 


9 In my harmonic abbreviations, upper-case Roman numerals normally stand for major triads, 
lower-case for minor. In this case, where the texture at the beginning of the song is highly 
active and contrapuntal, nterpretation of the pillars of the harmonic framework as “major” or 
“minor” is moot. At the beginning, an implied minor mode appears to be governing the lines, 
when the text enters, the mode swings to major. 

10 See Peter Winkler, “The Harmonic Language of Rock,” abstract of unpublished paper first 
delivered to the Keele University/Sonneck Society conference on American and British Mu- 
sic, Keele, England, 5 July 1983. 


118 



ching ching da da/Daughter daughter dumpling data/Pack and pick the ping pong 
starter/Carter Carter go get Carter,” etc. After the verse are four more instrumental variations. 
Thus the whole is very nearly symmetrical: 


Example 3 
Form of "Sky Saw" 

Five instrumental variations 
One vocal variation 

Four instrumental variations (song fades out towards end of 
fourth) 


The variation principle, here used in almost classical purity, is one that informs much of Eno’s 
work, given his overriding concern with color - the “vertical” aspect of musical sound - it is 
natural that he should find in the variation technique a suitable framework for the working-out 
of his ideas: the variation form does not get in the way, but readily accepts the content poured 
into it, sometimes (as here in “Sky Saw”) even proving amenable to the grafting of a quasi- 
developmental symmetrical form on top of it. 

One of Eno’s compositional techniques involves selecting material from his vast library of 
tapes of his recording sessions and private experiments and working it into new pieces. The 
“Sky Saw” tapes came in for this kind of treatment: 

There are two pieces of mine, “Sky Saw” from Another Green World 
and “A Major Groove” from Music for Films which are exactly the 
same track, mixed differently, slowed down, and fiddled about with a 
bit. I also gave it to Ultravox for one of the songs on their first album. 

It’s been a long way, this backing track. Listen to all three, and you 
hear what kind of range of different usage is possible. 1 1 

A completely different approach to the realm of the strange - the realm of the highly indi- 
viduated composition - is found in “Everything Merges With The Night” ( Green World), a 
song that adopts the harmonic framework of the eight-bar blues, which is repeated six times 
(the fourth and sixth times without words). And yet there is little else in the song that suggests 
the blues, either of the original Afro-American varieties or their rock derivatives (though in a 
sense, of course, this piece is precisely a - very - “white” blues!). The sparseness of texture 
suggests that this is one of the songs Eno composed as much by subtraction as by cumulation 
of instrumental tracks. The texture is clear, light and airy, with the various layers working 
together in contrapuntal fashion without any one overwhelming the others. The elements in 
this simple yet satisfying counterpoint of layers are: Eno’s voice, Brian Turrington’s bass gui- 
tar line, which sometimes doubles the vocal part, Brian Turrington’s piano line and Eno’s 
strummed guitar chords, which play a few motives heterorhythmically, and two electric guitar 


11 Brian Eno, “Pro Session: The Studio as Compositional Tool,” Down Beat 50 (Aug. 1983), 
51. 


119 



parts played by Eno, consisting of long held notes that move rhythmically in tandem with one 
another, setting up a series of harmonic intervals. The almost child-like simplicity of this suc- 
cession of different intervals succeeds remarkably in establishing a musical setting of variety 
within unity. The screeching tone color and sliding attack of the guitar lines is ingeniously 
offset by the restfulness of the actual lines they are playing: Eno may have been inspired by 
the guitar work of Procol Hamm’s Robin Trower, who often used a similar paradoxical tech- 
nique - something like Jimi Hendrix in slow motion. 

It is probably songs like this that led some critics to speak of a certain “unfinished” quality in 
Another Green World : to “finish” this song, how easy it would have been to make the guitar 
and piano strumming continuous instead of stop-and-start, add a drum track, add instrumental 
solos over the wordless verses. The result of such finishing, though, would be a typically clut- 
tered, undifferentiated, more faceless pop song, and not the economical, justly proportioned, 
and delightfully minimal piece “Everything Merges With The Night” in fact is. 


Hymn-like Songs 

Hymn-like sonorities are far from rare in rock, once more, Eno can be credited not so much 
with creating as with developing a particular idiom. The Beatles used organ sounds both 
ironically and sincerely (in “Dr. Robert” and “Let It Be,” by Lennon and McCartney respec- 
tively), the quintessential “Bach rock” group Procol Hamm used the Hammond organ as one 
of the main constituents of their early sound, their 1967 hit “Whiter Shade of Pale” containing 
a stepwise descending bass line and organ obbligato derived from Bach, and Emerson, Lake 
& Palmer came up with a synthesizer-rock version of the Anglican hymn by William Blake, 
“Jerusalem.” 

“Spider And I” ( Science ) is a good example of an Eno “hymn”: utterly consonant, stately and 
majestic, electronically produced but evocative of a Baroque organ in a vast cathedral, words 
both incongruous with and strangely linked to the religious connotations of the music. Again, 
one reason Eno stopped writing songs with words was so that he could allow himself and the 
listener to bask in such glowing sonorities without being simultaneously forced to activate the 
verbal, analytical part of the brain. Be this as it may, the images he chose for this song manage 
to evoke an air of grand mystery, in spite of - or even because of - the inexplicable reference 
to the geometrical arachnidan universe. 


Instrumental Pieces 

Nine of the eleven instrumental pieces on Eno’s progressive rock albums occur on Another 
Green World , giving that record a very special character. Of the remaining two, “Here Come 
the Warm Jets,” which closes out the album of that title, is a set of instrumental variations in a 
pop/rock style in which distorted electric guitar sounds saturate the acoustical space without 
much textural variation (if some of Eno’s songs were “instrumentals with words on them,” 
this piece could have benefitted from some verbal interest), and “Energy Fools the Magician,” 
from Before and A fter Science , is a short discreet jam on one basic chord. 


120 



The diverse instrumentals on Another Green World link Eno’s progressive rock style to the 
ambient style he was to evolve in the years to come. The instrumental pieces can of course be 
categorized, in a similar way to the vocal ones, for instance as “strange,” “hymn-like,” 
“rhythm-box,” “improvisational,” but each of them is so distinct that I shall discuss them in 
the order in which they appear on the album. 

“Over Fire Island” is a miniature gem, lasting under two minutes, with such a stripped-down 
texture that one suspects it is one of those pieces whose final form was arrived at through a 
process of subtraction in the final mixing stages. Phil Collins’s drums and Percy Jones’s fret- 
less bass together produce a sort of pointillistic, neo-be-bop “middleground” matrix: normally 
such a texture would serve a rhythm-section function, a backdrop for foreground activity, but 
here Eno finds its understated punchiness interesting enough in itself, and occasionally alters 
the tone color of a group of dram beats electronically. If there is a foreground, it is Eno’s oc- 
casional dabs of synthesizer and guitars. The melodic fragment for synthesizer (C-B-A-F-C- 
B, descending) that drops into the texture now and then in various rhythmic relationships to 
the steady 2/4 beat is the only melodic activity as such, though a two-note motive also appears 
briefly (Bb-G descending, Eb-G ascending). The pitches emphasized in the bass’s improvisa- 
tory roulades are B and C. Thus, taken as a whole, the pitch material of “Over Fire Island” 
suggests a mode on C, C-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-B, though the emphasis on B (in the bass and in the 
synthesizer melody) implies a B-locrian twist that makes a straightforward modal interpreta- 
tion impossible. Technicalities aside, what all this amounts to is Eno the non-musician playing 
with notes and melodies in a way that indeed many a musician trained in standard tonal and 
modal theory might not have thought of. 

A number of subtle touches make this piece more interesting than verbal description of its 
bare-bones framework might suggest. There are the (sometimes barely audible) alterations in 
the drum kit timbre already mentioned. Mid-way through the piece, an indefinite electroni- 
cally produced wave of sound, reminiscent of the dense, complex sounds of aggregational 
natural phenomena like flocks of birds in flight moves across the aural horizon from left to 
right, only to recede as quietly and inexplicably as it came. A bit later, the sound of the drum 
kit splits into two parts, the second part mixed at a lower dynamic level than the first and 
playing slightly off the beat of the first, creating a kind of audio 3-D, a fleeting sense of 
phase-shift spaciousness and overlapping rhythmic planes. The most remarkable touch, 
though, is the brief “coda”: the synthesizer plays its first chords of the piece, C and B (without 
fifths), twice, then, as the backing tracks are faded out, the synthesizer intones a majestic (if 
understated), tonally suggestive yet ambiguous succession of major chords - an almost 
Brahmsian modulation - in free rhythm, | B (implied) | G | E ||: C# | F# :||, with a shimmering, 
oscillating tone color that is the antithesis of the preceding be-bop-like texture, before fading 
out itself. Touches like this occur in much of Eno’s music spontaneously, inexplicably, and 
without apparent pattern or precedent. They can seem like random and almost pointless sur- 
face glosses until one realizes that they are the stuff of the music itself. 

“In Dark Trees” is the first of seven cuts on Another Green World on which Eno is credited 
with playing all the instruments. And, like the others, this piece uses primarily electronic and 
electronically treated sounds to weave a unique sonic tapestry. The opening is composed of 
blunt, almost palpably shaped and contoured masses of sound that have little to offer in the 
way of conventional melodic and harmonic motion, formal articulation, or developmental 
processes, the passage may be characterized, rather, as Xenakis did his electro-acoustic piece 


121 



Bohor I of 1962, as music that is “monistic with internal plurality.” 12 Another way of putting 
this would be to say that nothing much “happens,” and yet there is always a lot to hear. 

Eventually, specific layers of sound become identifiable, repeating in a certain pattern: elec- 
tric percussion and treated rhythm generator define a fast duple background pulse and a tenor- 
range ostinato (repeating pattern) on C#, with unpredictable accents (played on echoed, syn- 
thetic “wood blocks”), an electric guitar motive consisting of a downward glissando between 
E and D#, with an A held above (and below, in the bass synthesizer), an electric guitar me- 
lodic motive comprised of descending sixths, | C#/A# | D#/G# | A/F# | G#/E | (pitches ac- 
countable to C#-minor/dorian), and occasional deep bass synthesizer tones that alternate be- 
tween the pitches A, E, and F# (significantly lacking is the tonic C#). The result is a kind of 
layered counterpoint, or a counterpoint of layers, with shifting harmonic interpretations result- 
ing from the interaction of the various pitches. It is probably pieces like this that Frank Rose 
had in mind when he spoke of the “peculiar dynamic between ... two beats. It is not simply a 
case of two rhythms working in tandem, it is more like two metabolisms grappling with each 
other.” 1 3 The “two metabolisms” of “In Dark Trees” are the fast duple background pulse of the 
rhythm generator and the ultra-slow temporal articulations of the bass synthesizer. 

As is the case on many Eno compositions of this general type, the music fades in at the begin- 
ning and fades out at the end. This befits the nature of the music, which is not linear or teleo- 
logical but rather spatial or as it were spherical. Pieces like this do not have a beginning or 
end in the traditional sense: what happens when we hear them is that we perceive a terrain 
with certain characteristics that stretches without boundaries in all directions. Eno has out- 
lined the genesis of this piece in the course of a discussion on his compositional procedures in 
general: 

I can remember how that started and I can remember very clearly the 
image that I had which was this image of a dark, inky blue forest with 
moss hanging off and you could hear horses off in the distance all the 
time, these horses kind of neighing, whinnying. 

[Interviewer:] Was this an image from your personal experience? 

[Eno:] No, it was just what the rhythm box suggested . 14 

Like “In Dark Trees,” “The Big Ship” is a piece on which Eno plays all the instruments, in 
this case synthesizer, synthetic percussion and treated rhythm generator, and like the previous 
song, the percussive pulse is provided by the repeated rhythm (here triple) coming out of the 
rhythm box, which probably suggested the title of the song and musical means to Eno. Unlike 
“In Dark Trees,” though, “The Big Ship” is a hymn-like piece, and has a beginning and a cu- 
mulative structure, if not a real end (it fades out): it can be considered a composition of the 
ground bass type, beginning with a few synthesizer tones that suggest the harmonic structure 
or 2-part theme: 

Example 4 


12 Quoted in James Mansback Brody, liner notes to Iannis Xenakis: Electro-Acoustic Music, 
Nonesuch H-71246, n.d. 

13 Frank Rose, “Four Conversations with Brian Eno,” Village Voice 22 (28 Mar. 1977), 72. 

14 Bangs, “Eno,” 40. 


122 



Harmonic progression of "The Big Ship" 

II: I I IV | vi | IV | 

I I V | vi | IV : | 


The sound of the rhythm generator is faded in during the second part of the first statement of 
the theme, and in what follows, new layers of synthesizer are brought in over every four- 
measure phrase, slowly filling out the texture until a rich, complex, full-bodied sonority is 
achieved, at which point the fade-out begins. Each layer of harmonious sound is distinguished 
from the others by registral and timbral factors, but the final result is homogeneous. Although 
“The Big Ship'’ has some of the cumulative effect, diatonic grandeur, and simplicity of con- 
ception of Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D (which Eno admired and was to use later in the 
same year as the basis of a long piece on Discreet Music), it lacks the Baroque composition’s 
inner melodic differentiation and is somewhat the worse off for it. 

It is perhaps worth pointing out that so far, we have not heard a dominant-tonic (V-I) cadence 
on Another Green World', “The Big Ship” may be totally diatonic, but such harmonic cadences 
as exist are of the plagal (IV-I) and deceptive (V-vi) varieties. A plagal or subdominant orien- 
tation runs throughout most of Eno ’s pieces that use conventional chord root progressions at 
all, it calls to mind the studied avoidance of dominant-tonic relations in the music of another 
twentieth-century composer concerned with color as a primary means of musical expression - 
Claude Debussy. 

The title track of the album, “Another Green World” is remarkable for its brevity and for its 
almost self-effacing quality. It is the third of the seven all-Eno, all-instrumental pieces, and 
bears some resemblance to the first two in its repetitive nature: here a two-chord progression, | 
IV7 | I |, provides the structure for a short set of variations which rely on familiar timbres: 
acoustic piano, Farfisa organ, and “desert guitars” - really an imitation of Robert Fripp’s fa- 
vored electric guitar tone color, with heavy fuzz-tone and indefinitely long sustain characteris- 
tics. 

“Another Green World” may strike the listener as a piece without much musical content, and 
without even much in the way of Eno ’s usual zest for exploring the realms of texture and tim- 
bre. A generous assessment of the piece’s meaning, however, would allow it a two-pronged 
significance. First, in the overall formal scheme of Another Green World it occupies the clos- 
ing moments of Side One, if it lacks content, it nevertheless fulfills a formal rounding-off 
function, perhaps analogous to those of Mozart’s transitions and codas that Wagner criticized 
for lack of “melody.” Second, if viewed in the context of Eno’s musical output as a 
whole, ’’Another Green World” can be seen as an experimental prefiguration of the types of 
music he was to produce on such albums as Discreet Music and Music for Airports - music 
with a slow pulse and soft dynamics, based on a minimum of materials and realized in accor- 
dance with an aesthetic in which music’s quality of depth and psychological resonance stands 
in inverse proportion to the amount of surface activity. 

The second side of Another Green World begins with two more wordless pieces in which Eno 
is credited with playing all the instruments. “Sombre Reptiles” is the last of the rhythm-box- 
type pieces on the album, although Eno did not use an actual rhythm generator here, unless 
the cryptic designation “Peruvian percussion” indicates a rhythm-generator-generated sound. 
To achieve the dark yet rather cartoon-like brooding sound structure of “Sombre Reptiles,” 


123 



Eno played Hammond organ, guitars, “synthetic and Peruvian percussion,” and “electric ele- 
ments and unnatural sounds.” The composition has a certain monolithic quality not in keeping 
with Eno’s best work, and yet the originality and strangeness of the sound- world created in 
this experiment cannot be denied. The piece takes its inspiration from familiar rock sources 
(such as the timbre of the electric guitars and the persistent beat) as well as, apparently, ethnic 
music sources (the “Peruvian percussion” again). Yet the result can be called neither a rock 
song nor a real attempt at fusing world music elements with Western music and technology 
(as Eno was later to do with David Byrne on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts ): “Sombre Rep- 
tiles” is typical of a large number of idiosyncratic Eno compositions that have no real stylistic 
antecedents or parallels. 

In terms of pitch relations and formal layout, the basic premise of “Sombre Reptiles” is an 
eight-measure theme highly suggestive of the following harmonic structure (although I can 
hear no bass instrument as such): 

Example 5 

Harmonic progression of "Sombre Reptiles" 

(v) | | : i | i v | i | i | v | v | iv | v : | 

This theme, melodically articulated chiefly through simple two-part counterpoint between an 
electric guitar and a synthesizer in the tenor range, is repeated with little or no textural or tim- 
bral variation five times before the piece fades out. Aside from the chugging of the percussion 
in the background, the other main element in the overall sound consists of pulsating chords on 
a Hammond organ in the soprano register. 

“Sombre Reptiles” leads without a break into “Little Fishes”: just as the former is fading out, 
the latter fades in. The contrast between the two pieces is thus highlighted. Within the unas- 
suming dimensions of “Little Fishes” - another instrumental piece taking living forms as its 
inspiration or program - we get the clearest glimpse yet of the kind of music that was increas- 
ingly to occupy Eno in the years to come, culminating in 1982’s Ambient 4: On Land , an al- 
bum Eno thought of as containing his best work up to that time. 1:1 This new kind of music has 
no pulse, or a very slow or uncertain one at best, it abandons functional harmony (although it 
may use a pitch collection and triadic structure accountable to one or two major or minor 
modes). The new style has a light, airy quality, with a relatively large amount of open space 
between and around the notes and other sounds (unlike, for instance, “Sombre Reptiles,” 
where the rhythmic space is virtually filled up). The prevailing dynamics are soft, and devel- 
opmental and variational processes as such are abandoned in favor of a compositional ideal of 
continual flux. Unpitched, complex multi-pitched, or noise-based sounds of uncertain origin 
and great variety replace or at least complement traditional pitched sounds and unpitched per- 
cussion. 

On “Little Fishes,” Eno plays prepared piano and Farfisa organ. There are three timbral lay- 
ers, in each layer, sound-events transpire unpredictably, though within a certain range of pos- 


15 See Roman Kozak, “Rock’n’Rolling: Flo & Eddie, Eno & Phil, Godley & Creme Visited,” 
Billboard 94 (3 Apr. 1982), 72. 


124 



sibility. One layer is occupied by a slowly revolving cycle of slowly arpeggiated chords 
played on unprepared piano strings, with the sustain pedal held down: 

Example 6 

Piano chords of "Little Fishes" 

C major (sometimes C dominant seventh) 

G major 

F major (sometimes with an added B-flat) 


The alternation of B-flats and B-naturals results in a sense of tonal ambiguity: the listener’s 
sense of functional harmony, should he attempt to bring it to bear on the successions of 
chords, is constantly thwarted. 

The prepared-piano sounds as such comprise the second timbral layer. We hear, on and off, 
some of the types of sounds familiar since the experiments of John Cage in the 1930s - rat- 
tlings, ringings, buzzings, and bell-like tones, mostly of indefinite or complex pitch-makeup. 
The final layer of sound-events consists of little melodic fragments and isolated tones on the 
Farfisa organ, some with a “straight” tone color and others with an extremely wide and rapid 
vibrato and slight downward glissando. Sometimes these organ sounds coincide in pitch with 
the piano arpeggios, and sometimes they have their own independence. The odd, fleeting so- 
norities that result from the interaction of these three layers add up to the concept of an active 
yet static sonic frieze that Eno was to explore thoroughly in the years ahead. 

“Becalmed” (to the chagrin of Lester Bangs - see p. 105) captures perfectly the mood of its 
title. It is another of Eno’s unique soundscapes, in this case without the potentially mechanical 
(or “cocktail lounge”) ambiance of the rhythm box that was a prominent part of “In Dark 
Trees,” “The Big Ship,” and “Sombre Reptiles.” Unlike the similarly percussionless “Little 
Fishes,” however, “Becalmed” is an entirely pitch-oriented composition. In fact, it uses the 
same chord progression as Side One’s “The Big Ship” - the piece I compared to the Pachelbel 
Canon: 

Example 7 

Harmonic Progression of "Becalmed" 

| : I | IV | vi a | IV 

I I V | vi | IV : | 

(The a denotes a thirdless chord.) 


The difference, though, is profound: whereas “The Big Ship” seemed a too densely layered 
exercise in diatonic grandeur, “Becalmed,” with its less pulsative rhythm, more focussed syn- 
thesizer sound-shapes, and clear formal boundaries, succeeds in establishing and maintaining 
an atmosphere of serenity and calm from beginning to end. 

Eno plays the only instruments listed in the credits, Leslie piano and synthesizer. “Becalmed” 
opens with a soft swooshing, wind-like sound that soon gives way to a few harmonically sug- 


125 



gestive notes on the Leslie piano. Commonly used for variable-speed tremolo effects with an 
electronic organ, the Leslie speaker produces a slight pulsation of volume and pitch, here the 
pulsation takes place at a very low speed, making the effect very subtle. After this indefinite 
introduction, the synthesizer enters with the chord progression spelled out above, which is 
repeated four times before ending, with a subdued, paradoxical sense of rest and mild antici- 
pation, on the subdominant. 

The aesthetic success of “Becalmed” hinges on several subtle factors. The lack of rigid syn- 
chronization between piano and synthesizer is part of it. So is the languishing, almost non- 
existent pulse itself. A seemingly minor detail - the lack of a third in the first vi in the succes- 
sion of chords - provides an unexpected spatial opening which, had it been filled, might have 
made the piece’s simple, consonant harmonies too sweet, closed, shut-up. In a similar way, the 
melodic appoggiatura (a note not belonging to the background harmony) creating a dissonant 
interval of a second at the appearance of each tonic chord provides a mild element of tension 
that offsets the general celebration of consonance. 

“Zawinul/Lava” 1 ' 1 is a prefiguration of later developments in Eno’s compositional career. The 
repeated acoustic piano motif, D-G-A-D/D-G-A-C (ascending), is almost identical to some of 
the motives featuring major seconds and open fourths found on Music for Airports (1978), 
and the general sound-world explored has much in common with that described above in con- 
nection with “Little Fishes.” Unlike “Little Fishes,” however, “Zawinul/Lava” is a collective 
effort, with Phil Collins on percussion (occasional accents and trills on cymbals and drums), 
Percy Jones on fretless bass (isolated tones), Paul Rudolph on guitar (one or two notes), Rod 
Melvin on Rhodes piano (a few notes here and there), and Eno on grand piano (the repeated 
motif), synthesizer (a few animal- or human-like crying sounds), organ, and tape. A tonic (G) 
pedal is present from about halfway through in one or another instrument. 

“Zawinul/Lava” was doubtless the result of group improvisation within certain limits speci- 
fied by Eno - an “experiment” whose outcome could not have been completely foreseen. If 
one particular feature of this piece distinguishes it from similar later experiments, it is the 
element of drama and development, however understated: “Zawinul/Lava” starts with the 
piano motif alone, slowly builds to a mezzoforte high point (“climax” is far too strong a word) 
at the establishment of the pedal point (the long held “drone” notes), and then subsides as it 
fades out. Later Eno compositions of this general type tend to maintain the established musi- 
cal premises from “beginning” to “end,” the point being that they do not have clear-cut begin- 
nings or endings. 

As if to illustrate the “merging” idea of the previous song, “Spirits Drifting” enters before the 
fadeout of “Everything Merges With The Night” is quite complete. “Spirits Drifting” is an- 
other all -instrumental, all-Eno piece: he plays bass guitar, organ, and synthesizer. The harmo- 
nies - minor-based and at times extremely dissonant - are unusual for Eno, who normally 
works within either a relatively consonant diatonic framework or almost completely outside 
the harmonic realm as such. Like “Little Fishes” (which was, however, major-based), “Spirits 
Drifting” operates over a structure of bass notes chosen from a fifth-related set of three, in this 
case D-A-E. The sequence of these bass notes, articulated individually on the bass guitar, is as 
follows (various octave displacements are used): 


16 Joe Zawinul (b. 1932) is a jazz composer, keyboard player, and band leader. 


126 



Example 8 


Bass line of "Spirits Drifting" 


A 

E 

A 

E 

A 

E 

A 

E 

D 

E 

A 

E 

A 

E 

A 

E 

D 

E 

D 

E 

A 

E 

A 

E 

D 

E 

A 

E 

D 

E 

A 

E 

D 

E 

A 

E 

A 

E 

D 

E 

D 

E 




(The E's are preceded by an upbeat "passing note" D, or some- 
times, when approached from a structural D, by the chromatic 

figure D-D# . ) 


The second and fourth roots of each group of four remain consistently E, the first and third 
appear to vary randomly. On top of this “root structure” move a number of meandering syn- 
thesizer and organ lines, predominantly amongst the pitch-set common to the scales of D, A, 
and E (natural) minor (D, E, G, A, C), but also amongst the pitches belonging to only one or 
two of those keys, and sometimes touching on the highly dissonant (in the context) “leading 
tones” to E and A (D# and G#). (Eno was to return to similar quasi-serialist procedures in Mu- 
sic for Airports. Serialism was an outgrowth of Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone method, and 
a major force in musical composition in the 1950s, serialist composers were fond of using 
recurring, predetermined sets of notes to form the structural basis of their pieces.) 

The quiet, brooding, totally non-rock sonorities of this, the final composition on Another 
Green World , make for a striking formal denouement, and in themselves form yet another 
bridge: they look forward to subsequent works in which Eno thoroughly explored the quiet 
style that emerged on this album. 

In the first song on Another Green World, “all the clouds turn to words”, in the last song, 
“everything merges with the night.” The final composition, “Spirits Drifting,” is the night 
music itself. Given these framing factors - the long “Sky Saw” instrumentals that precede the 
entrance of that song’s text, which is about the futility of words (“No one knows what they 
mean/everyone just ignores them”), and the floating instrumental sonorities of “Spirits Drift- 
ing” - the content of Another Green World as a whole seems to emerge out of darkness, crys- 
tallize into various forms, and then sink back whence it came. The album represents Eno’s 
greatest artistic achievement in testing the limits of rock. 


127 



CHAPTER TEN: 

THE AMBIENT SOUND 


To John Cage, ambient sounds were the sounds of the environment one happened to be in. To 
the editors of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary,” “ambient” meant “surrounding, 
encompassing on all sides, investing, as, the ambient air.” Ambient could also be a noun, 
meaning “that which encompasses on all sides.” 1 Ambiance today commonly means the qual- 
ity or qualities of the surroundings in a specific place, and carries certain almost musical con- 
notations - “the totality of motives, patterns, or accessories surrounding and enhancing the 
central motif or design.” 2 3 The concept of ambiance is associated with the decorative arts, with 
places where people gather, with the planning and architecture of urban and suburban spaces. 
Adding commercial dimension to the content of the word “ambient,” the Japanese electronics 
company Panasonic began, a few years back, advertising their “miracle ambient sound,” an 
effect which added an aural illusion of spaciousness and depth to music coming out of the 
small stereo loudspeakers of portable radio/cassette players, by allowing the listener to shift 
the left and right channels slightly out of phase with each other. “Ambience” has a specific 
meaning in the recording studio: 

What sound engineers call ambience is a spatial dimension conferred 
on sound through some degree of echo delay or reverberation. Virtu- 
ally all recorded and broadcast music is enhanced by some artificial 
ambience. It is what makes Luciano Pavarotti sound like he’s grabbing 
you by the collar and singing into your face, it makes a Van Halen re- 
cord sound like it was recorded in St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

The word goes back to the Latin: ambiens is the present participle of the verb ambire, to go 
around, from the prefix amb-, around, and the verb root ire, to go. The amb- prefix is used in 
words like ambiguous, ambit, ambidextrous, and - a word Eno might particularly relish - 
ambitendency, “the state of having along with each tendency a countertendency.” 4 

When Eno chose the term “ambient” to denote the kind of quiet, unobtrusive music he began 
making in the early 1970s, the word’s rich connotations must have been prominent in his 
mind. It was music that could tint the atmosphere of the location where it was played. It was 
music that surrounded the listener with a sense of spaciousness and depth, encompassing one 
on all sides, instead of coming at the listener. It blended with the sounds of the environment, 
and seemed to invite one to listen musically to the environment itself, instead of getting an- 
noyed at people coughing or rustling programs during the slow movement. It had a central 
motif or design, which, however, could be surrounded and enhanced by a glimmering pleni- 


1 Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 2nd 
ed., s.v. “ambient.” 

2 Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “ambiance.” The dictionaries I have checked do 
indeed spell it this way. “Ambience” with an “e” has not only a different pronunciation (am- 
bience vs. ahmbicwce, but somewhat different connotations; read on. 

3 Rod Smith, “What Is Spacemusicl,” FM 91 Public Radio (Feb. 1987), 6. 

4 Webster ’s New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “ambitendency.” 


128 



tude of accessory motives and sonic patterns. Ambient music was decorative, rather than ex- 
pressionist, if not completely free of individual taste, memory, and psychology, as in Cage’s 
ideal, it nevertheless lacked the bathos of self-importance and confessional displays of open 
psychic wounds. It seemed to rotate around certain central issues, never approaching them 
directly. 

Between 1978 and 1982 Eno produced four albums that he called the Ambient series. They 
make a handsome set, their covers sporting similar artwork, layout, and typography. Of these 
four, however, only the first, Music for Airports, and the last. On Land, contain music that is 
mostly by Eno, Ambient 2: The Plateau of Mirror is a collaborative effort between Eno and 
composer Harold Budd, and Ambient 3: Day of Radiance consists of compositions by ham- 
mer-dulcimer player Laraaji. These four albums comprise the Ambient series proper, but the 
term “ambient” Eno himself has extended to cover the music of a number of albums released 
both before and after the Ambient series proper. We shall thus take the concept of ambient 
music to denote a broad approach to composition as well as a certain concept of the music’s 
appropriate mode or modes of reception. 

The music to be discussed in this chapter is firmly attributed to Eno alone, having been com- 
posed, produced, and arranged solely by him unless otherwise noted. Other musicians do play 
instruments on some of Eno ’s ambient pieces, and in the absence of a written score, we are 
often not quite sure what or how Eno told his musicians to play, or coaxed them into playing. 
But from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy’) of 1974 on, statements like “All compositions 
written by Eno” begin appearing on his solo albums, indicating that he had final authority 
over and responsibility for the creative decisions leading to the finished product. It is not un- 
reasonable, then, to attempt here an appraisal of Eno ’s own personal compositional style. 

Certain traits characterize most pieces composed in the ambient style: quietness, gentleness, 
an emphasis on the vertical color of sound, establishment and maintenance of a single perva- 
sive atmosphere, non-developmental forms, regularly or irregularly repeating events or cycles 
of events, modal pitch-sets, choice of a few limited parameters for each piece, layered textures 
tending towards an even balance of tone and noise, and a pulse that is sometimes uneven, 
sometimes “breathing,” and sometimes non-existent. 


Long Ambient Pieces 

The long signal loop pieces that Eno made with Robert Fripp in the mid-1970s (to be dis- 
cussed in the next chapter), though repetitive in their way, were strongly developmental: 
things happened in linear time, and these pieces have beginnings, middles, and ends. But Eno 
was also interested in making non-teleological music, music that would seem to be “just a 
chunk out of a longer continuum.” 5 With his progressive rock music of the early 1970s, he 
was still engaged in assaulting the audience at musical, visual, and conceptual levels. But si- 
multaneously he was getting tired of “wanting to shock and surprise and take people by the 
lapels and shake them all the time with music. I decided I wanted to do something that is ex- 
tremely calm and delicate and kind of invites you in rather than pushes itself upon you.” 6 


5 Webster ’s New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “ambitendency.” 

6 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 6. 


129 



What finally precipitated the shift in the balance of Eno’s musical interests, and what served 
to crystallize his thoughts about this new kind of music, was an accident: on leaving a studio 
in January, 1975, he was struck by a taxi and hospitalized briefly. This set the scene for a mu- 
sical revelation, which he has described as follows: 

My friend Judy Nylon visited me and brought me a record of 1 8th cen- 
tury harp music. After she had gone, and with some considerable diffi- 
culty, I put on the record. Having laid down, I realized that the ampli- 
fier was set at an extremely low level, and that one channel of the ste- 
reo had failed completely. Since I hadn’t the energy to get up and im- 
prove matters, the record played on almost inaudibly. This presented 
what was for me a new way of hearing music - as part of the ambience 
of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of the 
rain were parts of that ambience. It is for this reason that I suggest lis- 
tening to the piece [“Discreet Music”] at comparatively low levels, 
even to the extent that it frequently falls below the threshold of audi- 
bility. 7 

Such was the conceptual backdrop for the making of Discreet Music. The title track, which at 
thirty and a half minutes fills up just about the maximum space available on a single side of a 
long-playing record - thus suggesting that the music was indeed taken out of a much larger, 
even infinite continuum - was composed of “two simple and mutually compatible melodic 
lines of different duration stored on a [synthesizer with a] digital recall system.” One melody 
consists of the pitches c” d” (rest) e’ (rest) g’, the other is somewhat more elaborate: d’ e’ 
(rest) d’ b g (rest) d (rest) e” g” a” g”. (The designation of octave positions in these examples 
follows the scheme employed by the New Harvard Dictionary’ of Music, see the article on 
“Pitch.”) 

Having composed the melodies and set up a tape-delay and storage system, Eno’s activity as a 
composer-performer was limited to setting the tunes in motion at various points, and to “occa- 
sionally altering the timbre of the synthesizer’s output by means of a graphic equalizer.” 8 The 
musical result was half an hour of simple, tranquil, repeating and overlapping melodic seg- 
ments - a kind of switched-on, slow-motion heterophony. (Heterophony is a term often used 
to describe folk and other music in which the basic melodies are varied or embellished, inten- 
tionally, instinctively, or unintentionally, by the performers.) 

It would be difficult to notate precisely the rhythmic values of “Discreet Music”‘s melodies, 
as the pulse in the music itself is not metronomic. Though the recurring rhythms of the seven 
melodic fragments separated by rests imply a pulse of sorts, the two long melodies are not 
strictly synchronized, so at best there is a sense of overlapping pulses. The word “breathing” 
seems to describe the rhythm much more accurately than “pulse.” Furthermore, the “rests” are 
invariably filled in by “echos” of previously-heard fragments, occurring approximately six 
seconds after the fragment itself, so that the music continuously consists not only of fresh new 
events but of previously-heard events that are echoing gradually into the past and into inaudi- 
bility. The harmony is static, based on the overlapping of eleven different pitches forming a G 


7 Brian Eno, liner notes to Discreet Music, Editions EG EGS 303, 1975. 

8 Eno, liner notes to Discreet Music. 


130 



major chord with added ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth - typical of Eno’s search for basically 
consonant sounds with just a bit of spice: 

Example 9 

Harmonic content of "Discreet Music" 

a' ' 

g" 

e' ' 
d' ' 
c' ' 

g' 

e' 

d' 

b 

g 

d 

It is interesting that the lowest note should be the fifth of the chord: a technique that will ap- 
pear again and again in his ambient music, this prevents the total sound-mass from sounding 
too “rooted,” too gravitationally drawn to or stuck around a tonic. 

The form of “Discreet Music” is completely accidental, unintentional. Eno was preparing 
some tapes to be used as background sounds for a live, improvised performance by Fripp and 
himself. Having set up and turned on the tape delay system (to be described in the next chap- 
ter), and having programmed the melodies into the synthesizer at his home studio, 

the phone started ringing, people started knocking at the door, and I 
was answering the phone and adjusting all this stuff as it ran. I almost 
made [“Discreet Music”] without listening to it. It was really auto- 
matic music ... Since then I’ve experimented a lot with procedures 
where I set something up and interfered as little as possible . 9 

An additional accident that led to the final version of “Discreet Music” was that when Eno 
played the tape for Fripp, he put it on at half-speed by mistake. It sounded “very, very good. 1 
thought it was probably one of the best things I’d ever done and I didn’t even realize I was 
doing it at the time.” 10 

Since Eno was occupied with other business while making this piece, one tends to hear 
clumps of inputs set in motion periodically and then to hear them all gradually echo away into 
the distance. The variations in equalization make a surprising amount of difference. When so 
much in the way of melody, rhythm, and harmony has been stripped away from the music, 
timbral subtleties loom large from a structural point of view. Equalization changes the timbre 
from round flute- or even foghorn-like sounds to sharper, clarinet-like tones, even the octave 
position of the melodic fragments can appear to change. In terms of noise versus tone, the 
timbral predominance leans decidedly towards tone compared to a piece like Fripp and Eno’s 


9 Glenn O’Brien, “Eno at the Edge of Rock,” Andy Warhol’s Interview 8 (June 1978), 31. 

10 O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 31. 


131 



“An Index of Metals”, yet the equalization changes make one acutely aware of the noise-like 
content of upper harmonics. 

Side Two of Discreet Music contains a piece representing a different way of satisfying Eno’s 
“interest in self-regulating and self-generating systems.” “Three Variations on the Canon in D 
Major by Johann Pachelbel” is for 

a group of performers [string players] with a set of instructions - and 
the “input” is the fragment of Pachelbel. Each variation takes a small 
section of the score (two or four bars) as its starting point, and permu- 
tates the players’ parts such that they overlay each other in ways not 
suggested by the original score. 11 

The audible result of this process, gamely played by the Cockpit Ensemble conducted by 
Gavin Bryars, is some twenty minutes of pandiatonic music operating on several rhythmic 
levels simultaneously, in three sections that present the familiar melody in strange new guises 
and disguises. Eno’s treatment of the Pachelbel piece is an experiment in conceptual neo- 
classicism, and the result is not really all that gripping - a process piece with a marginally 
valuable product. As he was later to say, it does make a difference what the input is. In this 
case, the input gave Eno too many notes to work with: randomness here created cacophony, 
whereas on the other side of Discreet Music, with the input drastically limited, it produced 
ambient euphony. 

Music for Airports was the first of the four albums in the Ambient series produced by Eno 
between 1979 and 1982. The philosophical and practical program is set out in the liner notes, 
in which Eno criticized Muzak Inc. for its saturation of the background-music market with 
“familiar tunes arranged and orchestrated in a lightweight and derivative manner.” Eno ex- 
plained that “over the past three years, I have become interested in the use of music as ambi- 
ence, and have come to believe that it is possible to produce material that can be used thus 
without being in any way compromised.” Music for Airports, which was actually piped into 
the Marine Terminal at New York’s La Guardia Airport in 1980, 12 was Eno’s initial composi- 
tional response to the problem. There are four untitled, numbered compositions on the album, 
each taking up about half a record side with variously orchestrated studies in sculptured sound 
and silence. Major-key pandiatonicism and pure, uncluttered tone colors reign supreme in 
slowly-shifting sonic tapestries which, as Eno says of his ambient music in general, “must be 
able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular.” 13 

“2/1,” the second piece on the first side, is the purest, and arguably most effective, of the four 
compositions. The only sound sources used are taped female voices singing single pitches 
with an absolutely unwavering tone production, on the syllable “ah,” for about five seconds 
per pitch. These sung notes have been electronically treated to give them a soft attack/decay 
envelope and a slight hiss that accompanies the tone. Once again, the pitch material is very 
limited: seven tones that taken together spell a Db major seventh chord with an added ninth. 
(See Example 10.) 


1 1 Eno, liner notes to Discreet Music. 

12 For an account of the La Guardia audio-visual installation, see Gregory Miller, “The Arts: 
Video,” Omni 3 (Nov. 1980), 28-9. 

13 Brian Eno, liner notes to Ambient 1: Music for Airports, Editions EG EGS 201, 1978. 


132 



Example 10 


Harmonic content of "2/1" 

ab' 

f 

eb' 

db' 

c' 

ab 

f 


The rhythm of “2/1” is serially organized. As Eno has explained, each long note was recorded 
onto a separate piece of tape, and each piece of tape was made into a loop of a different 
length. The relationships between the lengths of the loops “aren’t simple, they’re not six to 
four. They’re like 27 to 79, or something like that. Numbers that mean they would constantly 
be falling in different relationships to one another.” In fact, Eno did not measure the lengths 
precisely, but simply spun off what seemed like a “reasonable” amount of extra tape for each 
note. “And then I started all the loops running, and let them configure in the way they chose 
to configure. So sometimes you get dense clusters and fairly long silences, and then you get a 
sequence of notes that makes a kind of melody.” 14 

Thus the exact ratios between the cycles of repetition of the seven notes Eno deemed unim- 
portant. For the record, the approximate duration of each cycle, determined through measure- 
ment with a stopwatch, is given in Example 11, the pitches are given in order of their first 
appearance. 

Example 11 

Approximate Duration of Pitch-Cycles in "2/1" 

c' eb' f ab' db' f ab 

21" 17" 25" 18" 31" 20" 22" 


It is interesting to note that once again Eno’s pitch material adds up to a chord that is not in 
root position (that is, the theoretically strongest note, Db, is not the lowest note of the chord). 
Furthermore, the root Db, the one note capable of producing a high-level dissonance in the 
context (a minor second with the neighboring C), has the longest cycle of the whole set, and is 
thus heard least frequently. The competing “tonics” of Db and Ab exemplify the modal ambi- 
guity found frequently in Eno’s music. Such music suggests a key, keys, or mode, but does 
not assert one unambiguously. The melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic cadences so important to 
the establishment of key in tonal music are completely absent here. 

The balance between sound and silence is of the essence in “2/1,” and in no other piece of 
Eno’s is silence itself so important. The composition, in its rarefied nature, its systematic use 
of long notes, and its serial organization, is reminiscent of Webern pieces like the first move- 
ment of his Symphony, Op. 21, of 1928, in spite of the different tonal idioms. Most critics and 


14 Rob Tannenbaum, “A Meeting of Sound Minds: John Cage and Brian Eno,” Musician 83 
(Sept. 1985), 68. 


133 



musicologists would agree, however, that even those initiated souls who have plotted out nu- 
merically the complex double canon among tone-row forms in that Symphony’s exposition 
are unlikely to have much success following the canon in real time without a score. In Eno’s 
“2/1,” on the other hand, owing to the limited pitch material, the fixed, narrow register, and 
the slow rhythmic cycles, the informed listener has considerably greater hope of following the 
serial unfolding, should he or she choose to do so. Between the poles of airport ambiance and 
mental chess game, “2/1” admirably lives up to its professed goal of being able to accomodate 
different levels of listening attention while offering different kinds of rewards at each level. 1 5 

The spatial and visual qualities of Eno’s music have been remarked upon many times in these 
pages. It is easy to imagine how Eno, with his art school background and its emphasis on ex- 
perimentalism, his continuing interest in the visual arts, and his own “painterly” or “sculp- 
tural” approach to music, would become actively involved in a new field of expression - 
video. He began his video experiments in his loft in downtown Manhattan in 1978, when he 
turned a monitor on its side and left the camera lying (also on its side) on his windowsill to 
tape the slowly-shifting patterns of light on buildings and clouds in the sky. Since then, he has 
produced primarily two kinds of video work, which he calls “video paintings” and “video 
sculptures” respectively. In the former, the video screen is treated as a canvas, in the specific 
sense that the viewer is not presented with a narrative or story - a sequence of events that 
must be watched in its entirety to be understood, rather, the viewer may come to rest for a few 
minutes in front of the video painting, contemplate it, and leave as he chooses. Some of the 
video paintings use recognizable images, some are abstract. But whether realistic in nature or 
not, they embody the idea that “light stands in the same relation to images as sound does to 
words”: 16 and if with his music Eno was always more interested in sound than with words, in 
his visual works he is more concerned with light than with images. The video sculptures are 
similar in concept, but here the video screens are concealed beneath or behind translucent 
materials built into various geometrical shapes, so that the viewer is confronted with a three- 
dimensional object on whose surface transpires a continuous play of color. 

Since 1979 Eno has been setting up audio-visual installations in galleries, museums, at festi- 
vals, and in the occasional train station or airport. In these installations, he seeks to create a 
total environment, a place that emanates the same kind of ambiance as his ambient music, and 
that, like his ambient music, is able to accomodate varying levels of attention and reward 
them equally. His ideal installation is “a place poised between a club, a gallery, a church, a 
square and a park, and sharing aspects of all of these.” 17 He wants his installations to provide 


15 For detailed comments by Eno on the genesis of Music for Airports in a Cologne airport 
waiting room, see Anthony Korner, “Aurora Musicalis,” Artforum 24:10 (Summer 1986), 77. 
For an account of how Eno organized the 22 tape loops used in “1/2,” see O’Brien, “Eno at 
Edge of Rock,” 31. For details on the making of “1/1,” a piece co-composed with Robert 
Wyatt and Rhett Davies, and more improvisational than serial in nature, see Brian Eno, “Pro 
Session: The Studio as Compositional Tool - Part II,” Down Beat (Aug. 1983), 53. 

16 John Hutchinson, “Brian Eno: Place #13,” color brochure (Dublin: Douglas Hyde Gallery, 
1986), n.p. This probably contains Eno’s most complete statement on the development and 
aims of his video works. 

17 Brian Eno, “Works Constructed with Sound and Light: Extracts from a talk given by Brian 
Eno following the opening of his video installation, Copenhagen, January 1986,” color bro- 
chure (London: Opal, Ltd., 1986), n.p. 


134 



an experience “like sitting by a river” for urban dwellers; 18 a viewer might drop by for re- 
peated observations during his lunch hour, using the place whose ambiance Eno has gently 
crafted as a space to think. 19 

What I like to do with the music is first of all inspect the place where 
the show is going to be, and then try to make a piece which completely 
sinks into that environment somewhere. So that many of the sounds 
are indistinguishable from the traffic outside, the general hum of the 
city. 

I like to have this feeling that people could sit there and think that the 

music continued out of earshot. I like the notion that you’re sitting in 

20 

this field of sound, and you don’t necessarily hear all of it.' 

The actual configuration and spatial disposition of loudspeakers, tape recorders, video sculp- 
tures and paintings, places to sit, and such things as the size and shape of walls and rooms, 
vary from place to place, and thus each installation is unique. Eno is currently seeking a per- 
manent site for what he calls “The Quiet Club,” which evidently will be an ambient environ- 
ment designed to stay put. 21 

One thing that the audio-video installations tend to share is the kind of cyclic approach to mu- 
sic found in “2/1” from Music for Airports. In that piece, seven notes recurred, each according 
to a different time-cycle. In Eno’s installations, four tape players will be typically used, each 
set in motion at a randomly chosen moment, and each playing a different cycle of events, 
sometimes of very long duration. Auto-reverse cassette decks are employed so that the music 
can continue playing unattended for an indefinite length of time. The effects of such cyclic 
music are similar to those of “2/1,” but on a much larger scale: rapid clusters of events alter- 
nate with more evenly-spaced episodes, and even stretches of complete silence. Unique con- 
stellations of events take form, never to recur again. 22 

In 1984 Sony Japan commissioned Eno to create a video and accompanying soundtrack that 
would be written and recorded specifically for compact disc, to be released only in that me- 
dium. Eno made seven video paintings of a nude female model and combined these with a 
cyclic musical composition. The finished result, called Thursday Afternoon , has been shown 
internationally and took first prize for best non-narrative video at the Video Culture Canada 


18 Eno, “Works Constructed with Sound and Light,” n.p. 

19 Hutchinson, “Eno: Place #13,” n.p. 

20 Tannenbaum, “Cage and Eno,” 69. 

21 Anthea Norman-Taylor and Lin Barkass, “Brian Eno,” Opal Information 3 (Dec. 1986), 11. 

22 For critical accounts of audio-video installations by Eno, see: Craig Bromberg, “Brian Eno 
at Concord,” Art in America 71:8 (Sept. 1983), 173-4, Kevin Concannon, “Michael Chandler 
and Brian Eno, Institute of Contemporary Art,” Artforum 22 (Apr. 1984), 85-6, Ursula 
Frohne, “Review: Brian Eno: Tegel Airport, Institut Unzeit, Berlin,” Flash Art (Apr./May 
1984) 42-3, C. Furlong, “AFI Frames the Field: The National Video Festival,” Afterimage 9:5 
(Oct. 1981), 4-5, Kim Levin, “The Waiting Room,” Arts Magazine 55 (Nov. 1980), 5, Dorine 
Mignot, “‘The Luminous Image’: 22 Video-Installationen im Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam,” 
Kunstforum International 9/10 (Jan. /Feb. 1985), 59-83, David Ross, “Brian Eno,” Ma- 
trix/Berkeley 44 (June/July 1981), n.p, and Pier Luigi Tazzi, “Milan: Brian Eno, Chiesa di S. 
Carpoforo,” Artforum 23 (Feb. 1985), 97-8. 


135 



exposition in Toronto in October, 1984. The video itself, and a CD of the same title, contain- 
ing sixty-one minutes of uninterrupted music, were commercially released in 1986. 

For Eno, the attraction of writing a piece for compact disc was two-fold: it could be much 
longer than the thirty or so minutes available on one side of a conventional LP, and there 
would be the possibility of having none of the background hiss associated with analog master- 
ing techniques. Flowever, although Thursday Afternoon was digitally mastered, the music was 
originally recorded on a conventional twenty-four-track analog machine, Eno explained that 
he needed the capability of changing tape speeds more than the fifteen percent or so currently 
offered by digital technology. Slowing down recorded sounds by fifty percent or more “does 
something to the timbre of sound that I like, by bringing upper harmonics into hearing 
range.” 23 

In the music of Thursday Afternoon, very small events take on large psychological propor- 
tions in the quiet sonic expanse Eno sets up. A low drone remains nearly constant until close 
to the end, when it drops out to highlight the other almost ubiquitous element, a high, shim- 
mering major chord on synthesizer. These shimmering timbres seem constant, fixed, and yet, 
when not much else is happening in the music, one realizes, as with the drone at the beginning 
of “The Fleavenly Music Corporation,” that the sound never stays the same at all, but has an 
inner richness and vitality in its own right. 

Over these background sounds occur a number of distinct kinds of sound-events in periodic 
clusters, that is, appearing for a certain stretch of time, then vanishing: very high, bright, bell- 
like tones with rich harmonics, a melodic-harmonic motive using the overlapping pitches C, 
B, and F, and timbrally using rapid amplitude modulation, “bird sounds” and “cricket sounds” 
- high-frequency twitterings, a sound like an echoed water drop, which is approximately on 
the pitch A, long single synthesizer tones with very soft attack and decay, a strange, low- 
frequency, variably pitched, almost human “sighing” sound with a downward slide and fairly 
quick attack and decay, and - what the listener is bound to focus on whenever it appears, due 
to its timbre being the most evocative of traditional, known music - an essentially Mixolydian 
set of pitches played in seemingly random rhythm and order on treated piano. (See Example 
12.) All of these sound-events have occurred at least once within the piece’s first 15 minutes. 

Example 12 

Piano Pitch Collection in "Thursday Afternoon" 

d' ' 

c' ' 

b' 

g' 

f 

d' 

b 

g 


23 Alan Jensen, “The Sound of Silence: A Thursday Afternoon with Brian Eno,” Electronics 
& Music Maker (Dec. 1985), 21. 


136 



Except for very occasional short sections when the background shimmering changes to a C- 
major from a G-major chord, the harmony of Thursday Afternoon is essentially static 
throughout, though with a tendency to throw in and out of relief the rich overtones partials of 
the equal-tempered tritone, B-F. Thursday Afternoon follows no developmental logic, it is a 
non-temporal painting in sound. 

Attention to Eno’s ambient style in the press peaked between 1976 and 1978, around the time 
reviews for Discreet Music, Another Green World, and Music for Airports were coming out. 
Mikal Gilmore wrote sympathetically of Eno’s “ideal of passivity” in Discreet Music; 24 James 
Wolcott bravely tried to “fire public enthusiasm” (that is, the enthusiasm of Creenf s rock 
readership) for that album’s music: “It’s lullingly beautiful, both intimate and distant, like 
music heard at night from a distant shore, and it has a calming, meditative effect: soon every 
molecule in the room has been reduced to balletic drowsiness.” 25 Some critics were unable to 
fathom (or stomach) the ambient approach. Michael Bloom, while admiring Eno’s level of 
electronic craftsmanship, and realizing that perhaps such records were intended more as “ge- 
brauchsmusik, or utilitarian undertakings ... environmental sound,” wrote bitingly, “As aes- 
thetic white noise, Ambient 1: Music for Airports makes for even more dissipated listening 
than last year’s similarly unfocussed Music for Films." 6 “ Ken Emerson derided Eno’s “avant- 
garde Muzak,” in a petulant review of Music for Airports that complained, “one man’s nir- 
vana is another man’s nap.” 27 Such reviews, both positive and negative, probably represent a 
fair sampling of how Eno’s music was being received by private listeners: some found it re- 
laxing, beautiful, gently stimulating, others found it boring, faceless, unmusical. 

During this same period Eno’s music played a part in numerous feature articles. Tom Johnson 
was the author of an attempt to come to grips with the renewed interest, on the part of con- 
temporary composers like Eno, Reich, Riley, and Rzewski, in writing tonal music. Tonality in 
the new works, it was recognized, has nothing to do with functional harmonic progressions 
supported by bass lines, but is more a matter of free use of a diatonic (major-scale) pitch col- 
lection. 28 Johnson also wrote a rambling review of the ten-day festival “New Music, New 
York,” ambitiously attempting to sum up developments in the new music scene of the 1970s, 
highlighting the growing split between the older generation - Cage-inspired, Eastern- 
philosophy-influenced - and the younger - electric guitars in hand, performance-art-oriented. 
Eno appeared at the festival, arguing for the inclusion of a sensuous element in new music to 
balance what he felt was the over-stressed intellectual element. 29 A Marxist critique of Eno’s 
music was offered by Tom Hull, who found in it a response to the post-Adorno challenge to 
art 


24 Mikal Gilmore, “Record Reviews: Another Green World, Discreet Music, Evening Star,” 
Down Beat 43 (21 Oct. 1976), 26. 

25 James Wolcott, “Records: Nearer My Eno to Thee: Another Green World, Discreet Music,” 
Creem 7 (Apr. 1976), 60. 

26 Michael Bloom, “Records: Ambient 1: Music for Airports ,” Rolling Stone 296 (26 July 
1979), 60-1. 

27 Ken Emerson, “Brian Eno Slips into ‘Trance Music, ’“ New York Times (12 Aug. 1979), 
D:22. 

28 Tom Johnson, “Music: The New Tonality,” Village Voice 23 (16 Oct. 1978), 115-6. 

29 Tom Johnson, “New Music, New York, New Institution,” Village Voice 24 (2 July 1979), 
88-9. 


137 



to catch up, to take command of the future and command of its tech- 
nology ... His work is predicated not on the immediacy of the revolu- 
tion, as Lissitzky’s was, but rather ... on the revolution’s inevitability, 
the real presence of a new world. The drift of history is on his side, 
awaiting only that New Man to come to seize the possibilities knowl- 
edge and technology offer and wield them into a rational society. Eno, 
as a socially responsible artist, has two basic tasks: to engage our hear- 
ing in novel ways, and to provide objects for our new world. He does 
both, splendidly . 30 

Short Ambient Pieces 

Between 1976 and 1983, Eno released four albums containing mostly shorter pieces in the 
ambient style. The first of these was Music for Films, originally released in 1976 in a limited 
edition of 500 copies, it was reissued in 1978 as a single album, and then again turned up in 
the ten-album retrospective boxed set Working Backwards, 1983-1973, in a version Eno said 
was “identical in content to the first edition released in 1978 but rearranged into what I con- 
sider a more satisfactory track sequence.” 31 With Music for Films Eno was in a sense advertis- 
ing his music for use by filmmakers, the album included an address to which interested parties 
could write for synchronization licences. The fact that he would take the trouble to rearrange 
the pieces to make a better sounding whole, however, indicates that he simultaneously viewed 
the album as an artistic product in its own right - as a conceptual album of music for imagi- 
nary films. Some of the music, he wrote, “was made specifically for use as soundtrack mate- 
rial, some of it was made for other reasons but found its way into films, most of it is previ- 
ously unissued in any form.” 32 All compositions on Music for Films are by Eno, though two 
were “arranged” with the help of bassist Percy Jones and guitarist Fred Frith. Ten musicians, 
mostly veterans of progressive rock album sessions with Eno, contributed guitar, bass, percus- 
sion, viola, electric piano, and trumpet parts. 

There are eighteen pieces on Music for Films, nine per side, Eno is the sole musician on 
eleven of them. In some respects the sound-world is very similar to that of Discreet Music. 
few events, very quiet dynamics, diatonicism, repetition, gentle washes of synthesizer colors, 
merging of foreground and background, frequent lack of definite pulse, a sense of timeless- 
ness. Here, however, the actual duration of each piece is reduced, often to aphoristic propor- 
tions of less than two minutes. The effect, then, is to evoke a series of miniature worlds, each 
with a set of characteristics involving tone color and melodic and harmonic procedures. 

Music for Films was largely ignored in the music press, which, one feels, was running out of 
things to say about Eno’s increasingly subtle approach: without any words or performances to 
write about, and faced with a new musical language that would be inappropriate to describe in 


30 Hull, Tom, “Eno Races Toward the New World,” Village Voice 21 (12 Apr. 1976), 87. 

31 Liner notes to Music for Films, boxed set version. Editions EG EGBS2, 1983. It is on this 
version that I base my comments. 

32 Liner notes to Music for Films. 


138 



technical terms in a popular periodical, reviewers and editors balked. Michael Davis, how- 
ever, bravely set down his impressions of Music for Films for Creem' s readers: 

Begin with a dazzling quartz crystal. Fade up to soft focus on a warm 
bed being made warmer. Soft sighs heard from beneath the covers are 
transformed into space meows somehow sensed through the windows 
of a 747. The plane glides to earth, eventually disappearing into the 
Bermuda Triangle, where you are seductively attacked by the steward- 
ess in Jamaican chainsaw rhythm. She is easily eluded, however, and 
you swim to the surface just in time to see your purple-haired secretary 
teaching the switchboard nursery rhymes. The typewriter on her desk 
retorts with a funky clavinet imitation. You walk out the door and are 
immediately sizzled by a sunshower. When your eyes can focus again, 
you’re back at home, staring at your smiling turntable as the needle re- 
turns to play the side over again, refusing to reject the record ... If you 
want logic, go carouse with Kraftwerk. 

On Land, the final album in the Ambient tetralogy, released in 1982, contains eight composi- 
tions, all but one of them by Eno alone. Five musicians contributed synthesizer, guitar, bass, 
trumpet, guitar, and “live equalization.” What sets On Land apart musically from most of 
Eno’s quiet, contemplative music is that here, the element of timbre takes over to the point of 
there being very few pitches in use, and often nothing that could really be called harmony. For 
instance, consider “The Lost Day,” a fairly extensive (nine and a half minutes) piece. 
Throughout, one hears an ominous, indefinable, very low sound that varies slightly in its color 
and dynamic intensity. An eerie muted metallic clinking that sounds like ropes hitting the mast 
of a sailboat at rest in the water comes and goes, as do stray blows on a xylophone, a haunting 
phrygian-mode synthesizer melody in the tenor range, and indefinable noises, often reminis- 
cent of collective natural phenomena like swarming insects, the baying of cattle, or the sound 
of a flock of ducks taking off from a body of water. Sonic edges are blurred, events occur in a 
non-linear, non-narrative fashion, and electronically-generated sounds mingle, merge, and 
blend with instrumental and found sounds to the extent that the impression is one of a con- 
tinuous tableau, with no real distinction between human, animal, insect, or mechanical sound- 
sources. 

The critical response to On Land - the last Eno solo ambient album to generate much atten- 
tion in the press - was split along the lines I have already described. Jon Pareles continued his 
love-hate relationship with Eno’s music and ideas, chastizing him for theoretical unoriginality 
while grudgingly admitting to being impressed by the music, though longing for Eno to return 
to the progressive rock style. 34 Mark Peel offered the condescending put-down: “Brian Eno’s 
‘ambient music’ is certainly ambient ... but it’s certainly not music ... I’ll bet plants love it. As 
for me, I’m just going to let it lull me to sleep.” 35 George Rush, while rendering an 
enthusiastic account of Eno’s career, thought that at times, the music “narrowly escapes 
schmaltz ... In several places he employs the worst B-movie sound effects - the ominous 
haunted-house drone, bird squawks, and frog croaks.” 36 Robert Payes and Glenn O’Brien 

33 Michael Davis, “Records: Music for Films,” Creem 10 (Apr. 1979), 61. 

34 Jon Pareles, “Riffs: Eno Uncaged,” Village Voice 27 (4 May 1982), 77-8. 

35 Mark Peel, “Disc and Tape Reviews: Ambient #4 - On Land,” Stereo Review 47 (Nov. 
1982), 105. 


139 



drone, bird squawks, and frog croaks.” 36 Robert Payes and Glenn O’Brien found On Land's 
enveloping environments powerful and satisfying. 37 

Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, released in 1983, was played and composed by Brian 
Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Roger Eno. Given that these musicians appear to have shared compo- 
sitional, performance, recording, and production tasks almost equally on this album, we are 
faced with a situation like that of the Bowie/Eno collaborations of the late 1970s, where Eno’s 
work as a composer extends into the realm of collaboration with others by imperceptible de- 
grees. It is perhaps in this sense that he best exemplifies his own philosophy, spelled out in his 
article “Generating and Organizing Variety in the Arts,” of a more horizontally-disposed - 
rather than heirarchically-imposed - creative process. In any case, Eno wrote only two of the 
twelve pieces by himself, the others are co-written or written by Lanois. Apollo was the result 
of a commission to score the music to director A1 Reinert’s documentary on the Apollo mis- 
sions to the moon. The musical style is similar to that of On Land, but with rather more em- 
phasis on pitch material, which tends to appear over long, sustained drones. As his Ambient 
Music records were a response to the harshness of commercial Muzak, Apollo gave Eno an 
opportunity to portray his reaction to the dawn of the era of space exploration. He had been 
discouraged by the TV coverage of the first Apollo moon mission, with its “uptempo, ‘newsy’ 
manner, short shots, fast cuts, and too many experts obscuring the grandeur and strangeness of 
the event with a patina of down-to-earth chatter.” 38 

Of Music for Films, Vol. II, released in 1983 as part of the boxed set Working Backwards, Eno 
explained: 

I released the first volume of Music for Films in 1978, and it contained 
samples of my work, spanning the period 1975-78. This second vol- 
ume picks up where the first left off, but it is somewhat different in 
that it contains fewer pieces with a greater average length. 

Eno himself wrote five of the thirteen compositions on Music for Films, Vol. II] the others are 
collaborations with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno. Seven of the pieces were taken from the 
Apollo album. The upshot is that Music for Films, Vol. II contains only three new “solo” Eno 
compositions. It is interesting to note, however, that of the pieces borrowed from Apollo, Eno 
changes the length of all but one. That is to say, since these pieces are of the continuum type, 
it appears that their actual duration is incidental. With regard to classical compositions, it is 
sometimes said that the ideal version of a piece exists in the score, not in any particular per- 
formance. Of most of Eno’s ambient works, it may be said that the ideal versions exist on one 
or more hypothetical strips of magnetic recording tape that go on forever, what we hear on the 
albums are arbitrarily truncated sections of the ideal versions. 

These four albums of shorter ambient pieces may also represent concessions to the reality of 
the market-place. Out of the hundreds of pieces Eno claims to have made and stored away on 
tape, how many would the public really be interested in absorbing in versions that went on for 

36 George Rush, “Brian Eno: Rock’s Svengali Pursues Silence,” Esquire 98 (Dec. 1982), 132. 

37 Robert Payes, “Review: On Land,” Trouser Press 9 (Aug. 1982), 41, Glen O’Brien, Glen, 
“Glenn O’Brien’s Beat: My Mother the Ear,” Andy Warhol’s Interview 12 (Sept. 1982), 1 07- 
8 . 

38 Liner notes to Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, Editions EG Eno 5, 1983. 

39 Liner notes to Music for Films, Vol. II, Editions EG EGSP-2, 1983. 


140 



twenty minutes or more? Eno has chosen a middle path of releasing a few albums of long 
pieces that afford luxurious stretches of uninterrupted ambiance, and a few albums that tip the 
balance toward variety over unity. Furthermore, regardless of the ideal of indefinite length, it 
does make a difference how many pieces are on a record. Earlier I argued that one of the fac- 
tors that makes Another Green World Eno’s progressive rock masterpiece is the sheer brevity, 
variety, and number of individual pieces. With regard to the ambient style, I would argue that 
an album containing four pieces per side, such as On Land, is bound to be heard in different 
terms than one containing nine per side, like Music for Films. The terms of listening may, of 
course, depend to a great extent on the listener - the mode of receptivity he or she is willing to 
adopt and the level of concentration he or she is capable of exerting. But the terms of listening 
also depend on the character and absolute duration of the material being presented. Adopting a 
vertical mode of listening - a disposition of one’s faculties of concentration along the timbral 
rather than the temporal dimension - is positively encouraged in direct proportion to the 
length of a piece: only after one has gotten thoroughly used to a piece’s surface qualities of 
tonality, sound types, overall texture, and so on, can one really begin to appreciate the minute 
deviations that are such an important part of Eno’s music. Nevertheless, Eno has shown that 
the ambient style is able to accomodate not only varying levels of attention, but varying spans 
of duration, from the miniature to the “heavenly.” Concerned with both grain of sand and ex- 
panse of space, the composer has created a highly flexible medium. 

Leaving aside for now the question of the effect of duration on perception, let us delve further 
into the musical characteristics of the ambient style on these four albums. Although the collec- 
tively-authored compositions share many of the same traits, I shall restrict this discussion to 
the thirty pieces composed by Eno alone. Texture and timbre may be of the essence in the 
ambient style, but a few generalized remarks can be made with regard to the style’s use of 
rhythm and harmony. Although they may appear a bit naked or technical in the abstract, these 
observations may suggest some of the variety of effects that Eno manages to eke out of a 
rather severly limited repertory of traditional musical materials. 

Of the thirty pieces under consideration, eleven dispense with pulse altogether, the rhythm 
consisting of a gentle ebb and flow of instrumental colors. (Listen, for instance, to “Inland 
Sea,” “Lizard Point,” or “The Lost Day.”) Nine have a steady, slow overall rhythm in which 
the pulse is more or less coordinated amongst the various parts. (“Always Returning,” “Ro- 
man Twilight.”) Seven employ an indefinite, fluctuating pulse which typically results from the 
striking of a bass note or chord at an approximately designated point in time. (“Climate 
Study.”) Two have a steady pulse in the bass only, with free rhythms in the other parts. (“A 
Measured Room,” “Two Rapid Formations.”) Finally, one piece (“Patrolling Wire Borders”) 
manifests two distinct, uncoordinated planes of pulse. 

Eno’s most common type of harmonic ploy is to use a repeating chord progression, nine 
pieces share this trait. Such progressions may be simply alternations of two chords (minor i 
and minor ii in a Dorian mode in “A Measured Room”, major I and major VII in a Mixolydian 
mode in “M386”, 17 and IV in a major mode in “Strange Light”), or they may be somewhat 
more involved (||: I | 6 | bVII | IV:|| in “Patrolling Wire Borders,” or ||: i | iv | i j iv | i j v | VII | 
VII :|| in “Sparrowfall”). Non-repeating, weak and tonally ambiguous progressions in which 
the chords are taken from within the range of two keys are found in one or two pieces (“Slow 
Water”). In another piece, two major chords a whole step apart alternate at a very indefinite, 
langorous pace (“Events in Dense Fog”). The remaining compositions use static or ambiguous 


141 



harmonies, sometimes suggestive of chords but just as often consisting of nothing but a drone 
with seemingly stray pitches drawn from a diatonic pitch set appearing and disappearing 
overhead. Seven of these pieces (for instance “Aragon” and “Inland Sea”) can be classed as 
being in the minor mode, though “mode” here emphatically denotes a pitch set only, not a 
point of arrival or a set of melodic formulas. Three pieces are based on a complex major 
chord with added notes. (See “From the Same Hill.”) Two are diatonic yet use neither drone 
nor tertian harmony. (“Sparrowfall [2].”) The rest represent individual tonal orientations: a 
rotating set of pitches alternately suggestive of an F minor seventh chord and a Db major sev- 
enth chord (“Unfamiliar Wind [Leeks Hills]”), a static Mixolydian pitch set (“Two Rapid 
Formations”), a spare usage of pitches suggestive of the Phrygian mode (“Task Force”), a 
chromatic, unclassifiable pitch collection over a constant drone (“Alternative 3”), a predomi- 
nantly Mixolydian pitch set with, however, variable third, sixth, and seventh scale degrees 
(“Tal Coat”), and a shifting harmonic entity involving a minor seventh chord with a prominent 
fourth above the tonic and thus open to a quartal interpretation (“Lantern March”: F-A<-C-D 
+ & = C-F-&-E<-Ab?). 

Although specific tone-color combinations remain as elusive as ever to capture in words, two 
principles of texture can be formulated that apply to many of Eno’s shorter ambient pieces: 
the principle of layering and the principle of timbral heterogeneity. Each piece tends to use a 
different combination of tone colors or sound-types, striving for a unique timbral identity. The 
types of sound themselves can perhaps be visualized as falling along a continuum between 
pure sine tones and pure white noise. But such visualization may be deceptive, in the sense 
that many of Eno’s tones and noises move and change, they are not static shades of color as 
seen in a paint catalog, but have an inner life of their own. Take a single note: Eno will run it 
through his treatments, adding or subtracting harmonics (filtering or equalization), enhancing 
its spatiality (delay, reverb, echo), altering its attack-decay envelope, adding subtle or wide 
vibrato (or asymmetrical frequency modulation effects), subjecting it to amplitude modulation 
- the list of procedures goes on and on. When Eno is finished, the “single note” may be a very 
complex and active entity. Some of the sound-types Eno uses are recognizably produced by 
acoustic or electric instmments, though often treated to give them a strange, other-worldly 
quality, bass guitar, acoustic piano, and electric guitar are probably the most common tradi- 
tional instrumental sound-sources in Eno’s ambient music. 

“Synthesizer” means nothing as a sound-type in itself. Among the classes of sound Eno is 
fond of producing with synthesizers and tape machines are the following, descriptively indi- 
cated: tinkling, glass-like, swooshing, ocean- or wind-like, complex, irregular, bell-like har- 
monics, clanking, metallic, water-drop-like, gurgling, jet-plane-like (involving a systematic 
development or continuous variation of the harmonic structure of the sound), brass-like, 
string-like, organ-like, and piano-like tones, an array of “beeps and hoops” - rapid succes- 
sions of sounds with quickly changing pitch-profdes and ADSR envelopes 40 associated, for 
instance, with both the Columbia-Princeton RCA Mark II Synthesizer in the early 1960s, and 
the synthesized “voice” of robot R2D2 in the Star Wars movies of the late 1970s and 1980s, 


40 ADSR stands for attack-decay-sustain-release. Taken together, these characteristics of a 
given note or sound describe its “envelope,” or amplitude profde in time. It is generally 
thought that a sound’s envelope has just as great an impact on the perception of its character 
as its harmonic spectrum. Envelope and harmonic spectrum are the two primary determinants 
of timbre. 


142 



paper-shuffling-like, low-volume, high-density, complex, saturated, aggregative, machine- 
like, mechanical, “backwards” (sounds with a very slow attack and very fast decay), and ani- 
mal- or insect-like - elephants, frogs, birds, mosquitos, crickets. Another class of sounds is 
those produced by treated or untreated dram machine, but these are present in only a few of 
the pieces under consideration. 

Any given piece is liable to consist of several - say approximately three to seven - distinct, 
heterogeneous timbral layers. There are notable exceptions to this rule - for instance, the rela- 
tively homogeneous blend of organ-like sounds in “An Ending” (Apollo), a hymn-like piece, 
or the women’s voices of “2/1” already discussed. But by and large, Eno is at pains to select 
sound-types that will not obscure each other, that will be different enough to stand out from 
the others and yet preserve the transparency of the total sound. A typical ambient texture 
might consist of the following heterogeneous sound-types: a very-low-frequency drone with a 
rich and active set of upper harmonics, intermittent animal-like noises, a few long, sustained, 
motivically-related melodic phrases of flute-like tones, with pitch material selected from a 
certain mode, each note being surrounded by a halo of reverberation, and a recurring yet ape- 
riodic water-dropping sound. Nothing here can be confused with anything else, every element 
will always be clearly audible. It may have been Eno’s desire for a separation of each type of 
sound which led to a his creation of a number of pieces in which extremely distinct, timbrally 
unique events occur just once over a more or less constant ambient background. The norm, 
however, is a continuum of regularly or irregularly spaced repetitions of events or at least 
classes of events. 

Several further points may be noted regarding such layered, heterogeneous textures. First, the 
atmosphere of each piece tends to be subtly yet decisively colored by a particular kind of 
drone and/or soft background noise layer. The drone is likely to be in the low register, though 
tenor and alto range drones are also found, and it is usually on the tonic note, although fre- 
quently enough it occurs on the fifth above the tonic, creating a continuous tension, a “six- 
four” type of effect. The background noise layer is likely to consist of some sort of gentle, 
pervasive, barely audible swooshing or gurgling type of sound, or some variety of active, 
treated white or pink noise (white noise sounds like a continuous hiss, with all audible fre- 
quencies present, pink noise is white noise with some of the highest frequencies filtered out). 
The background noise layer usually sets up the impression of immense, oceanic spaciousness 
- the feeling that the music is located in a large cathedral, the outdoors, or even outer space. 
Examples of both “swooshing” and “gurgling” noise layers can be heard in “Slow Water.” 

Second, aside from the drone or noise layer, which gives a pervading tint to the overall at- 
mosphere, the density of events tends to be low, further enhancing the impression of the exis- 
tence of plenty of black space around individual sounds. For all their constant, subtle activity, 
Eno’s short ambient pieces sound remarkably uncluttered, clean, and geometrical. Such a tex- 
ture of sparse melodic events over a floating harmonic background is used in “From the Same 
Hill.” 

Third, and again augmenting the sense of spaciousness, the use of echo effects tends to be 
pronounced. Eno has taken full advantage of the development of digital delay equipment, 
which typically allows independent adjustment of delay time (the time between the moment 
the signal is input and the moment the delayed signal is sent out), the delay depth (the strength 
of the delayed signal), and the repeat level (the number of times the delayed signal will be 
heard). Long delay times, full delay depths, and high repeat levels, particularly when used in 


143 



conjunction with sounds or pitches that have long attack and decay characteristics, can result 
in the creation of vast fictitious acoustical spaces. Echo, reverb, and white noise effects are 
evident in a piece like “Inland Sea.” 

Fourth, in many of the shorter ambient pieces, one hears numerous events that are just barely 
audible. Eno has planted all manner of little quirky sounds in these records, to the point where 
the attentive listener often finds himself not quite sure if a noise came out of the speakers, 
from somewhere else in the house, or from outside the windows. The music of the pieces 
seems to blend by imperceptible degrees with the sounds of the environment - which is, of 
course, precisely what Eno intended. Listen to “The Lost Day” at low volume for a subtle 
study of events at the threshold level of perception. 

The final trait of the ambient style which should be mentioned is the very low degree of “live- 
ness” of sound that characterizes many of the pieces. There is little if any sense that what we 
hear on these albums is a performance that has been captured through sound recording. We 
are presented, rather, with an entirely fictitious aural tableau. It makes no sense to imagine a 
group of performers playing this music together in real-time - and that is certainly not how 
the music was made. Our sense of hearing and previous experience with musical instruments 
tells us that this sound was made with an electric bass guitar, that one with a piano. As to the 
origins of many other sounds, however, we are not quite sure. Is that a tape of bird-song, an 
airplane, an organ, a human voice? Or have these sounds been synthesized ex nihilo ? The an- 
swers are not really relevant, for the total sound is profoundly “artificial,” in the sense of 
something that has been created by artifice, by the systematic application of human intelli- 
gence to a set of sounding materials. The natural habitat of this type of music indeed seems to 
be not the concert hall, but the art gallery (where the original actions of the artist/performer 
are hidden from view, divorced from the present by time and space), the public space (where 
the observer/listener is not constrained to make an effort to actively engage his aesthetic fac- 
ulties), or the home (where privacy provides perhaps the ideal situation in which to move in 
and out of the music according to the psychic metabolism of the moment). 

A signal of Eno’s impact on and growing stature in the modern art world was the publication 
of a full-length interview in the prestigious Artforum International in 1986. 41 The magazine’s 
cover featured a striking glossy color photograph of a detail of one of his video sculptures, 
Living Room', the image of gently shaded rectangles of color on a pitch black background 
showed the influence of one of the composer’s early heroes, the painter Mondrian, in its geo- 
metrical purity. For students of Eno’s music, however, the real bonus of the Artform issue was 
a new recording, pressed between the pages on a transparent tear-out floppy 33 1/3 rpm disc. 

The new composition. Glint (East ofWoodbridge), is, at present, Eno’s most recently released 
recording. Although it shares many of the basic traits of the ambient style, it is tempting to 
interpret it as heralding a new direction in Eno’s music, hazardous as such interpretation may 
be at such close range. Glint appears to be composed not so much of cycles of recurring 
events as of a continuous unfolding of unique events. It also differs from most of the previous 
ambient music in its greater relative density of events, the higher level of activity. This activ- 
ity reaches a subdued climax near the middle and then tapers off in a gentle descent - unlike 
that of the many ambient pieces whose density and texture remain more or less constant from 
beginning to end. Unusual too are the concentration of pitch material in the middle and low 


41 Korner, “Aurora Musicalis,” 76-9. 


144 



registers, and the dark, Phrygian modality. At eight and a half minutes, Glint" explores a me- 
dium range of duration, most of Eno’s previous pieces are less than five or more than ten 
minutes long. 

It is possible here only to mention in passing some of the other collaborative experiments in 
the ambient style that Eno has undertaken in the last decade. Among these are two albums 
with the German synthesizer rock group Cluster, recorded in 1977-8, on these records we can 
hear Eno trying out his timbral ideas, largely in the framework of music with a steady beat. 
The Cluster collaborations also provide a direct historical link between Eno and the whole 
German synthesizer rock tradition exemplified by Kraftwerk, whom he much admired, and 
Tangerine Dream, whom he has declined to mention in interviews. Between 1980 and 1985 
Eno put out two ambient-style albums with Harold Budd ( Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror 
and The Pearl), one with John Hassell ( Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics), one with Mi- 
chael Brook and Daniel Lanois (Hybrid), and one with Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois (Voices). 
Taken together, these records explore territory that Eno first mapped out in his solo records of 
the previous decade. Although these collaborations do much to flesh out our picture of Eno’s 
complex musical personality, and although each is worth careful listening consideration, it is 
virtually impossible to separate Eno’s contributions from those of his fellow-musicians. This 
is why, in describing the ambient sound, 1 have used mostly compositions attributable to Eno 
alone. 

It is of course impossible to predict the shape of the new musical styles we may yet hope to 
hear from the forty-year-old Brian Eno. At times he has hinted that an album of a new kind of 
song may be forthcoming in the next couple of years, although he is evasive on this point, not 
wishing to raise any hopes amongst his audience of the early 1970s for a return to his progres- 
sive rock style. In fact, he is clearly irked by fans who clamor for more “idiot energy” songs. 
At an Eno lecture at the Exploratorium in San Francisco in early 1988, a member of the audi- 
ence innocently asked, “Are you still interested in song forms with lyrics, and can we expect 
any more songs from you in the near future?” The usually loquacious Eno curtly answered, 
“Yes - and no,” and moved on to the next question. 

As Glint shows, the ambient style is capable of seemingly perpetual variation and extension: 
beyond the Phrygian mode used in Glint the still gloomier tones of the Locrian mode are wait- 
ing, not to mention the array of symmetrical scales such as whole-tone and octatonic, which 
seem to be particularly suited to the ambient style on account of their static, repeating proper- 
ties, their exotic, non-tonal flavorings, and their limited transposability. Even an atonal ambi- 
ent style does not seem beyond the realm of the possible, although it would be curious to see 
whether Eno could manage to retain the warmth, spaciousness, and accessibility of his music 
in an atonal framework. 


145 



CHAPTER ELEVEN: 
COLLABORATIONS 


Beginning with his work with Roxy Music, Eno has enjoyed working with a host of rock lu- 
minaries. Roxy Music’s tatement was as much visual and conceptual as it was musical, Bryan 
Ferry tantalizing his audience with his air of jaded elegance and with the endless procession 
of surreal, anguishing anima/lover figures in his lyrics. On the two albums Eno recorded with 
Roxy Music, it is difficult to pinpoint Eno’s musical contribution, except for a few inspired 
synthesizer solos of the “funny sounds” variety. Although Eno’s solo albums show a decisive 
turn away from rock after Before and After Science of 1977, he has continued to collaborate 
with other musicians in the making of rock albums, and has been much in demand as a pro- 
ducer and session musician. Robert Fripp has called Eno a “catalytic creature” whose thought- 
ful, interested presence at a recording session was bound to increase the endeavor’s chances 
of artistic success. 1 Of the many records that Eno had a hand in making, those with Fripp, 
David Bowie, and David Byrne and Talking Fleads deserve special mention for the unusual 
nature of their contents and for their influence on the direction of rock. 


With Robert Fripp 

No Pussyfooting, the first of the two major Eno/Fripp collaborations, grew out of Eno’s early 
experiments with tape recorders, out of Fripp ’s ability to supply the appropriate kind of musi- 
cal input from an electric guitar, and out of the musical chemistry between the two musicians. 
By the time Eno invited Fripp to come over and play in his London home studio in Septem- 
ber, 1972, 2 Eno had worked out a system of producing music by means of using two tape re- 
corders set up so that when a single sound was played, it was heard several seconds later at a 
slightly lower volume level, then again several seconds later at a still lower volume level, and 
so on. The length of time between an event and its repetition depended on the speed of the 
tape and the distance between the two tape recorders. Example 13, which is based on the dia- 
gram Eno made for the back cover of Discreet Music, shows the physical set-up in simplified 
form. Only two reels are used, the feeding reel of tape recorder 1 and the take-up reel of tape 
recorder 2, with the ribbon of tape stretching between the two recorders. 


1 Interview broadcast from KFOG San Francisco, 12 Nov. 1986. 

2 September 9 is given as the date of recording of Side One on the album cover. Elsewhere, 
Fripp has said that the recording session took place in July of the same year: see inner liner 
notes to Robert Fripp, God Save the Queen, Polydor MPF 1298, 1980. 


146 



Example 13 


Electric gui 
tar 

output 


Eno and Fripp' s signal-delay system 
Used for No Pussyfooting 


delay return 


Output stored 
on master tape 


delay 

line 


record 

head 


playback 

head 


Tape Recorder 
1 


Tape Recorder 
2 


147 



New sounds could thus be introduced and layered on top of the old ones without erasing them. 
The repeating, looped signal - typically about five seconds long - could be allowed to repeat 
and decay indefinitely (in such a case, owing to the very slight deterioration of tonal defini- 
tion each time the signal passed through the loop, the tone color would change almost imper- 
ceptibly with time, growing very gradually more noise-like, and shifting towards the bass end 
of the frequency spectrum), with or without an independent “solo” line being played over the 
top, the looped signal could be interrupted at will, to create empty acoustical space for new 
events, or, perhaps most characteristically, it could be made to decay at a slow but steady rate, 
while new input was being added at a similarly slow but steady rate, so that the total effect 
was one of a complex, slowly changing, kaleidoscopic musical texture composed of simple 
motives, each only a few seconds in length, which were most prominent immediately when 
introduced, and which inexorably marched into the aural background. 

It takes many words indeed to describe a musical process that, once heard, is immediately and 
intuitively grasped. Side One of No Pussyfooting is a twenty-one-minute piece called “The 
Heavenly Music Corporation” made in one take, using the process described above, with 
Fripp providing the motivic input and with Eno “playing” the tape recorders - determining the 
rate of the layered motives’ march into oblivion, creating new acoustical room when neces- 
sary or desirable, and adjusting the density or saturation of the timbral space. Contrary to what 
one might hear in a superficial listening, there is nothing mechanical about this process. Fripp 
and Eno needed to be in creative synch with one another in order to build, tinker with, and 
dismantle, in real-time, the musical structures we perceive. 

“The Heavenly Music Corporation” begins with a single sustained note on electric guitar that 
is looped back on itself to form a continuous drone. After a time, upper harmonics, notably the 
fifth and minor seventh, begin to emerge. Listening to this drone, the mind’s interpretive 
mechanisms are apt to undergo changes. For a period, we are bound to hear “just a long note,” 
and impatiently wonder what, if anything, is going to “happen.” But after a certain point, 
given the lack of obvious musical activity, we become aware that the single note is an incredi- 
bly complex entity in itself: that it is not staying the same at all, that there is rhythm, melody, 
harmony, and timbre wrapped up inside it - that, in short, it is vibrantly alive, and does not 
need anything else added or changed to be enjoyed, to be experienced musically. 

After several minutes, more things do start to happen in a conventionally musical sense. A 
slow, concentrated, intense guitar melody emerges, phrase by phrase, consisting of isolated 
notes, short motives, glissandi, or longer linear improvisations. Some of these phrases are 
allowed to enter into the signal loop, becoming “accompaniment” on their recurrences, at 
other times, the melody becomes a “solo,” detached from the loop, just riding a crest on top of 
the palpitating mass of sound. The only consistent pulse in “The Heavenly Music Corpora- 
tion” is of the length of the signal loop, and at about three seconds, this is rather too slow to 
perceive as a pulse or beat in the traditional sense: it is more akin to the experience of breath- 
ing than the heartbeat. 

The harmony of the piece is not functional, nor is it particularly triadic, it is based, rather, on 
the totality of tones that are prominent in the waves of sound at any given moment. The clos- 
est term for this kind of harmony in traditional music theory would be “pandiatonicism.” As 
in Terry Riley’s In C, however, the tonal center and modal type shift over periods of time, 
here from F# dorian to A major, finally settling into D major towards the end. Within this gen- 
eral tonal framework, Fripp feels free to borrow notes from outside the prevailing modes: 


148 



scale degrees three, six, and seven in particular may be played in their natural or flatted (mi- 
nor) forms. Given the retention, in the loop, of many previously heard tones, maneuvering the 
overall modal impression takes considerable skill - it is a bit like steering a battleship. 

Although the tonal architecture of “The Heavenly Music Corporation” must be credited to 
Fripp, who supplied the pitch material, Eno himself was to use pandiatonicism and the drone 
idea extensively in subsequent works. If there is a major conceptual difference between this 
piece and Eno’s later extended works, it has to do with teleology. This piece develops, how- 
ever slowly: it has a definite beginning (the drone), middle (characterized by rhapsodic guitar 
solos), and end (a long cadential section marked by a repeated and varied slow glissando to 
the tonic). Eno’s later extended works, to the contrary, tend to be non-developmental or cy- 
clic. 

In a number of other important general ways, though, “The Heavenly Music Corporation,” as 
a system, anticipates Eno’s own ambient style. First of all, the piece is a system, or process: it 
represents a way of making music, a concept of music-making, as much as it represents a 
composition in the traditional sense. The process allowed Eno to operate in his favored gently 
guiding, rather than authoritarian role. Making the piece required thought and attention, Eno 
had to contemplate and inspect the sound as it rolled by, making changes and adjustments. 
The process, meanwhile, yielded maximal output (a lengthy, complex piece of music) from 
minimal input (selection of pitches and switches). Finally, the signal-loop procedure itself, 
with its gradually decaying tone quality, exemplified one of Eno’s cherished axioms: “Repeti- 
tion is a form of change.” 

Eno has explained the title of “Swastika Girls,” the long piece that comprises Side Two of No 
Pussyfooting : 

I was walking to the studio one day and there was a piece of magazine 
someone had ripped out from some pomo film magazine, I guess, and 
it showed a picture of a naked girl with a swastika on her arm giving a 
‘Sieg Heil’ salute ... I stuck it on the console and we were just kind of 
vaguely looking at this and talking about this as we were recording 

3 

that piece, and so that became the title. 

“Swastika Girls” was recorded in two days at Command Studios in London, about a year after 
Eno and Fripp made “The Heavenly Music Corporation” in Eno’s home. If it is less successful 
than the earlier piece, it is because of the much greater overall saturation of the acoustical 
space: continuous fast guitar picking on a single chord (E major with added sixth and ninth) 
and an incessantly busy synthesizer sequence present the backdrop for Fripp’s metallic E- 
lydian melodic guitar lines. There seems to be a perceptual rule that possibilities for apprecia- 
tion of timbral subtleties decrease in proportion to the rate of actual notes being played. The 
frenetic quality of the accompaniment on “Swastika Girls” shows that Eno and Fripp had not 
yet understood the full weight of this principle, it would be nearly a decade before Eno was 
able to formulate it simply and elegantly - “Every note obscures another.” 

Evening Star, released in 1975, was the second and last of the major Fripp/Eno collaborations. 
The first three tracks on the first side are further experiments in signal looping and guitar and 

; Charles Amirkhanian, “Brian Eno interviewed 2/2/80 for KPFA Marathon by C. Amirkha- 
nian, transcribed 10/29/83 [by] S. Stone,” unpublished typescript, 16. 


149 



synthesizer layering, which display for the most part qualities typical of the emerging ambient 
style: static harmony based on a major chord with or without added notes, sometimes with 
Lydian inflections in the melodic parts, a non-developmental unfolding of events, with a dis- 
tinct timbral character for each piece, and a variety of ostinati. “Wind on Wind,” the last cut 
on Side One, is by Eno alone and was recorded at his home studio. Here the ambient style, at 
least in one of its aspects, is in full bloom. Round, soft-attacked, flute-like tones are spatially 
enhanced through use of a reverb/delay unit, and short melodic fragments are looped, re- 
peated, and faded. “Wind on Wind,” in fact, sounds very much like a short sketch for “Dis- 
creet Music.” The main difference is that in “Discreet Music,” the musical solution will be 
diluted, allowing for closer inspection, more leisurely and thorough contemplation, of its ele- 
ments: the delay time will be lengthened, the melodies simplified or de-activated, and the re- 
sulting harmonic density rarefied. 

The second side of Evening Star consists of a very long Fripp/Eno composition, “An Index of 
Metals,” recorded at Eno’s studio with much the same straightforward tape signal-loop appa- 
ratus as “The Heavenly Music Corporation,” but with Eno providing input from a synthesizer 
in addition to Fripp’s electric guitar input. Seen in the context of Eno’s ambient music as a 
whole, “An Index of Metals” is remarkable for two factors: its high dissonance level and its 
developmental nature. Insofar as it consists of tones (as opposed to noises or unpitched per- 
cussive sounds), Eno’s ambient music tends to be very consonant, providing a restful ambi- 
ance - even if sometimes tinged with an undercurrent of tension or melancholy. In “An Index 
of Metals,” the sense of a sinister, intense ambiguity found in many of Eno’s strange progres- 
sive rock songs comes to the forefront. It is as dark and foreboding as “The Heavenly Music 
Corporation” is contemplative and rhapsodic, and it acheives this effect largely through heavy, 
close dissonances. 

Some of the highlights in the piece’s strategy of continuous development or continuous varia- 
tion may be sketched out here. It opens with a high, metallic-sounding, ringing Eb-G diad, 
possibly strummed quickly on guitar strings. Like the drone that opens “The Heavenly Music 
Corporation,” this ringing sound is timbrally complex, with a great deal of inner motion. After 
about three and a half minutes, some dissonant, complex guitar-produced noise - resembling 
mosquitos or metallic butterflies - suddenly enters, and is looped. The tonal situation becomes 
very uncertain, and the timbral balance shifts from tone to noise. About six minutes into the 
piece, a characteristic sustained, fuzz-tone Fripp guitar melody enters, playing individual 
notes that become part of the loop. Around the middle of the eighth minute, an F-B tritone 
predominates the harmonic proceedings, which develops into a dissonant F-B-C chord, a cou- 
ple of minutes later, E and Eb have been added, raising the level of dissonance to even greater 
heights. The maneuvering of the atonal battleship continues in this general manner, with em- 
phasis on minor seconds and tritones, until during the twentieth minute of the piece a fade- 
down takes place, the existing signal loop being allowed to run its course with no new inupt. 
Eventually, the ringing sound from the beginning comes in again in a more complex form - so 
complex that it is difficult to make out individual pitches - and becomes the most prominent 
feature of the texture. From about the twenty-sixth minute to the end some three minutes later, 
little or no new input is added, but Eno adjusts and manipulates the long fade-out of the 
looped signal, which, owing to the analog nature of the process, becomes ever more noise- 
like, gradually losing high frequencies and general tonal definition. 


150 



In all, “An Index of Metals” is bound to strike the listener not so much as a musical develop- 
ment as an almost tangibly sculptural process, Eno and Fripp using electronic tools to give 
shape to the invisible black marble of silence. During this period, they occasionally gave live 
performances together of music that sounded much like what we hear on No Pussyfooting and 
Evening Star. The rock press paid less attention to their collaborations in this vein than to 
Fripp’s work with King Crimson or Eno’s solo rock albums. One critic wrote a sympathetic 
review of a Fripp/Eno performance at the London Palladium in June 1975 that included the 
comment: 

There was such variety in the textures created that, depending upon the 
degree of individual concentration, one could focus on one of any of 
the levels of sound patterns. One therefore became a participant in the 
creative process, creating through individual selection individual com- 
positions for oneself, rather than blindly accepting an already well- 
defined and regulated musical formula . 4 5 

Fripp was to undertake a global tour in 1979, performing alone in small venues and record 
stores with his guitar and two tape recorders set up as Eno had taught him, he would repeat- 
edly stress the importance of the audience’s creative listening contribution.’ 

In 1973, Fripp’s reputation and standing in the rock press and among a large following in 
Great Britain and the United States was, if controversial, already firmly established through a 
string of diverse and original King Crimson albums. For Eno’s budding career, the release in 
the same year of the contemplative No Pussyfooting and the frenetic Here Come the Warm 
Jets was a risky move, but one that set him on the eclectic course he was to follow. As he ex- 
plained, 

The difference between those two albums created a kind of confusion 
about my image, which my managers bewailed. But it proved to be the 
best move I could have made - and it was quite by accident. It put me 
in a position where I don’t have to be consistent. I can start each record 
anew, without having a trademark . 6 

With David Bowie 

Bowie, like Eno and Byrne, had a background in the visual arts, his public career has been as 
much a matter of shrewd manipulation of his ever-changing, chameleon-like image as it has 
been a musical evolution. His transformations from space-age androgyne to Ziggy Stardust (a 
“doomed messianic rock icon”), 7 to the White Duke (purveyor of funk and disco music to the 


4 Allan Jones, “Caught in the Act: Fripp and Eno: Formal Beauty,” Melody Maker 50(14 June 
1975), 49. 

5 The “Frippertronics” style that grew out of this tour represented a streamlining of the 
Eno/Fripp approach to the signal-loop situation. The primary published recording representing 
this style is Let the Power Fall: An Album of Frippertronics, Editions EG EGS 110, 1981. 

6 Stephen Demorest, “The Discreet Charm of Brian Eno: An English Pop Theorist Seeks to 
Redefine Music,” Horizon 21 (June 1978), 83-4. 

7 Pareles and Romanowski, Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, 6 1 . 


151 



white masses), to reclusive British expatriate living in Berlin, to straight-ahead dance rocker 
in the 1980s, have been chronicled elsewhere/ In all of his manifestations, Bowie has gar- 
nered the kind of mass popularity that has eluded Eno, one reason for this is that in his music 
he has remained closer than Eno to a basic hard rock style. But in their collaboration on three 
albums between 1977 and 1979, Eno was able to nudge Bowie beyond the limits of rock. 

According to Eno, Bowie was interested in working with him because he had found himself in 
a situation where creative ideas were running out. Bowie had heard Eno’s Another Green 
World and “saw in that an approach he liked.” 9 Eno, for his part, had admired Bowie’s 1976 
album Station to Station. The two got together at Conny Plank’s studio in Cologne and set 
about making Low, which was released in 1977. Low contains eleven tracks, Eno is listed as 
co-composer with Bowie of only one of them, “Warszawa,” but he was apparently an active 
contributor throughout. 

Low may be viewed as Bowie’s Another Green World, except that instead of interspersing 
experimental instrumentals with rock songs, Bowie segregated the two types on the album’s 
two sides, furthermore, the pieces are all either strictly rock or non-rock, with no stylistic ex- 
ploration in between. Side B is the non-rock, experimental, mostly instrumental side. Eno’s 
musical personality is evident throughout, in an array of metallic and grating sounds, in 
rhythm-box backings, in the guitar treatments, in the sweeping, string-section-like synthesizer 
lines. But in general, the music seems very much more Bowie than Eno. Bowie’s style incor- 
porates a penchant for strange harmonic twists of a kind Eno tends to avoid. Moreover, 
Bowie’s compositions are considerably more “active” in traditional terms than Eno’s tend to 
be, if not a great deal more linear in a teleological sense: they contain more simultaneous ac- 
tive melodic lines, more counterpoint, more harmonic activity, a greater density of events, 
resulting in a generally thicker sound texture. Also prominent are such Bowieisms as saxo- 
phone and octave-doubled melodies. 

Eno made the instrumental tracks for “Warszawa” by himself in the studio during a period 
when Bowie was away for two days. Upon returning, Bowie added the vocals. 10 “Warszawa” 
is a slow, severe, frightening composition based on piano drones and organ-like synthesizer 
and flute/mellotron tones that set up successions of harmonies quite uncharacteristic of Eno’s 
solo work. After several minutes, Bowie’s voice enters singing indecipherable words or vo- 
calizations to simple melodies. The whole is very carefully composed, with a great deal of 
harmonic and structural pre-planning, and shows the influence on Eno of Bowie’s more active 
compositional style. 

The whole matter of authorship is complicated in collaborations of this sort. Often, a range of 
duties seems to be shared by a number of musicians: when there is no neat division of roles 
(composer, arranger, instrumentalist, and producer), but several people are active in all of 
these spheres at once, then whose piece it is may boil down to who is paying for the studio 


s The significance of Bowie’s impact on Britain in the early 1970s is especially well treated in 
Iain Chambers discussion of “glam rock,” in his Urban Rhythms: Pop Music and Popidar 
Culture (New York: St. Martin’s, 1985), 128-38. See also Kevin Cann, David Bowie: A 
Chronology’ (London: Vermillion, 1983). 

9 Kurt Loder, “Eno,” Synapse (Jan./Feb. 1979), 26. 

10 O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 32. 


152 


time, as Eno has suggested. 11 Complex authorial situations arise in many tracks on this disc. 
“Art Decade,” with whose composition Bowie is credited, is a piece that, if we accept Eno’s 
word on the subject, he was responsible for saving from the out-take pile: 

That started off as a little tune that he [Bowie] played on the piano. 
Actually we both played it because it was for four hands, and when 
we’d finished it he didn’t like it very much and sort of forgot about it. 

But as it happened, during the two days he was gone I ... dug that out 
to see if I could do anything with it. I put all those instruments on top 

of what we had, and then he liked it and realized there was hope for it, 

12 

and he worked on top of that adding more instruments. 

On Bowie’s “ Heroes ” album of 1977, Eno is listed as responsible for synthesizers, keyboards, 
and guitar treatments, and as co-author of four pieces. One is the title track (lyrics by Bowie, 
music by Bowie-Eno), a rock-anthem type of song whose desperate theme (“We can be heroes 
... just for one day”) recalls both Andy Warhol’s pop proverb that “Everyone will be famous 
for fifteen minutes,” and the transsexual character in Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” 
who “thought she was James Dean for a day.” The song’s unique sonic character owes much 
to Robert Fripp’s remarkable sustained three-note guitar obbligato, and to Eno’s background 
synthesizer noises that sound something like the chugging of an interstellar freight train. 

Side A of “ Hemes ” is again all rock, having a sort of futuristic party-dance atmosphere that 
Eno’s own albums do not. Side B opens and closes with rock numbers, but between them are 
three instrumental collaborations, leading directly into one another without breaks, on which 
Eno’s influence is very strong. “Sense of Doubt” is a horrific, minimalistic soundscape with a 
deep, slow C-B-Bb-A piano motive that keeps returning, under filtered white -noise swoosh- 
ings and isolated synthesizer chords in A minor, punctuated occasionally by an evil grating 
sound that can only be described as the yawn of the dead. 

Bowie and Eno used the deck of Oblique Strategies extensively in the making of “Heroes”, 
and “both worked on all the pieces all the time - almost taking turns.” 3 When they began 
work on “Sense of Doubt,” each pulled out a card and kept it a secret: 

It was like a game. We took turns working on it, he’d do one overdub 
and I’d do the next. The idea was that each was to observe his Oblique 
Strategy as closely as he could. And as it turned out they were entirely 
opposed to one another. Effectively mine said, “Try to make every- 
thing as similar as possible,” ... and his said “Emphasize differ- 
ences .” 14 

“Sense of Doubt” leads into “Moss Garden,” a piece in Eno’s ambient style, featuring con- 
tinuous synthesizer chords, a high jet-plane sound that repeatedly careens across the field of 
hearing, and a koto or other stringed instrument providing plucked “melody.” “Moss Garden” 


11 Charles Amirkhanian, “Brian Eno interviewed 2/2/80 for KPFA Marathon by C. Amirkha- 
nian, transcribed 10/29/83 [by] S. Stone,” unpublished typescript, 27. 

12 O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 32. 

13 O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 32. 

14 O’Brien, “Eno at Edge of Rock,” 32. 


153 


revolves around two chords, F# major and G# major, implying a tonic of C#. Finally, 
“Neukvln” is something like a German expressionist version of the ambient style: dissonant 
diminished chords evoking a movie-organ atmosphere, saxophone melodies evoking gangster 
life, and somewhat harsh and un-liquid water-like sounds. Again, Eno alone would not, or 
perhaps could not, have come up with a chord progression like this. 

Lodger of 1979, the final Bowie/Eno collaboration, represents Bowie drawing back to more 
familiar musical territory, and from a musical point of view the album is considerably less 
interesting than the first two. The overall effect of Lodger is rock until you drop, without so 
much as a soft ballad to break up the pace. Long stretches sound unedited, as if Bowie did not 
know when to stop, what to subtract. Of the ten songs, Eno co-authored six, and is listed as 
providing ‘‘‘ambient drone,” “prepared piano and cricket menace,” synthesizers and guitar 
treatments, “horse trumpets, Eroica horn,” and piano. Lodger is overproduced: in the continu- 
ous assault of the rock frenetics, Eno’s treatments get buried in the busy mix. As he later said, 
a whole world can be extracted out of a single sound, but such effects are easily lost if the 
input and surroundings are too complicated. Eno and Bowie “argued quite a lot about what 
was going to happen” on particular tracks, and Eno felt that the resolutions were compromises 
in many cases: “It started off extremely promising and quite revolutionary and it didn’t seem 
to quite end that way.” 15 


With Talking Heads and David Byrne 

In 1978, the year following his first collaboration with Bowie, the peripatetic Eno moved to a 
loft in Soho, Manhattan, and immersed himself in the downtown music-art-performance 
scene. Though his own commitment to rock was weakening, he found some of the new New 
York punk/new wave groups exciting enough to produce: he helped catapult Devo to popular- 
ity with their album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, and contributed to the growing 
genre of punk anthology records by producing No New York , featuring music by the Contor- 
tions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, and DNA. He worked with his old colleague Robert 
Fripp, also temporarily stationed in New York, on Fripp’s first solo album, the experimental, 
collage-like Exposure. 

Of greatest consequence, however, was Eno’s work with art-rock band Talking Heads, for 
whom he produced three albums between 1978 and 1980, and with the head Head, David 
Byrne, with whom he made My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, released in 1981. Talking Heads 
were a band with the right idea in the right place at the right time. The concept was to use a 
primitivist rock attack with a heavy African accent as a vehicle for a statement about rock and 
its relationship to the media and other social institutions. The context was the burgeoning per- 
formance art and mixed-media scene of downtown New York in the late 1970s, a scene that 
John Rockwell has described as “a cohesive artistic community” - a community that had sus- 
tained the experimental efforts of musicians like Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Glenn Branca, 
as well as artists simultaneously involved in a number of fields, such as Laurie Anderson, 
Meredith Monk, and Robert Wilson. 1 * 1 The scene fostered an exuberant disregard for tradi- 


15 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 27-8. 

16 John Rockwell, All American Music: Composition in the Late 20th Century’ (New York: 
Knopf, 1983), 244. 


154 



tional distinctions between artistic categories, not to mention the distinction between “high” 
and “low” art, or classical and popular music. Eno was in his element. 

What attracted Eno to Talking Heads was the experimental attitude he had discerned on their 
first album: 

I found it very, very attractive material, full of potential, and certainly 
manifesting an intelligence that stood behind the music. And it struck 
me that the music was all the product of some very active brains that 
were constructing music in a kind of conceptual way . 17 

Eno and the Heads worked together on three albums. More Songs About Buildings and Food 
(1978) and Fear Of Music (1979) were co-produced by Eno and Talking Heads. Remain In 
Light (1980) was produced by Eno, and he is also credited with various vocal and instrumen- 
tal duties as well as with sharing in the songwriting itself. By this time, he had become in ef- 
fect a ghost member of the band, somewhat in the manner of the Beatles’ producer George 
Martin in the late 1960s. Under Eno’s guiding hand, the Talking Heads sound became ever 
more dependent on electronic processing. Following a working method established in his own 
progressive rock work and used in his collaboration with Bowie, he kept a few “spare” tracks 
for himself on the reels of twenty-four-track tape as the band laid down the instrumentals and 
vocals. On the spare tracks, Eno would feed in this or that instrument and treat it electroni- 
cally. Playing the whole thing back in various rough mixes would lead to further refinement 
and manipulation of the sound. On the song “Animals” from Fear of Music, for instance, Eno 
took the bass dram signal, fed it through a synthesizer, added a repeat echo, and then filtered 
out the low frequency distortion. 18 Rhythmic complications were frequently introduced by 
sending a snare dram or other instalment keeping a steady pulse through a delay unit set at 
some fraction or multiple of the basic beat. 19 Since 1980 such sophisticated studio drum 
treatments have become commonplace in pop recordings of many varieties, rap music pro- 
vides some of the most obvious, audible examples. Now, too, of course, electronic drams have 
become widespread: manufacturers make special dram-shaped, mounted pads which feed a 
MIDI signal directly into synthesizers, eliminating the need for an acoustic impulse alto- 
gether. But many of the types of sounds for which drummers and producers use these can be 
found on the Eno/Heads collaborative albums. 

Particularly striking aspects of the development of Talking Heads’ musical style during the 
Eno years were the simplification of harmonic materials and the increasingly pointillistic na- 
ture of the rhythms. In many of the songs on Remain In Light, one or two chords provide the 
harmonic underpinning for an ever-shifting array of percussive and melodic events. In such 
songs, Eno’s graph-paper approach to composition is clearly in evidence: the pulse and its 
subdivisions, along with a few repetitive melodic or bass fragments, form a background ma- 
trix over which dabs or points of color or light are placed. Although the density of rhythmic 
events in a song like the Dorian-mode-based “Crosseyed and Painless” is high, and although 
the texture is highly layered (bass, drums, two electric guitars, and a number of cowbells or 
similar instruments), each layer sounds clean and distinct in the counterpoint of rhythms. 


17 Loder, “Eno,” 24. 

18 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 11. 

19 Milkowski, “Brian Eno: Excursions,” 57. 


155 



Even though many of Eno’s ambient pieces lack a steady pulse, the coloristic, spatial ap- 
proach to composition is much the same. 

Eno’s increasing involvement with Talking Heads’ music-making process was apparently fa- 
vored by David Byrne, but it was ultimately resented by other members of the group. Eno 
later told an interviewer of the frustrations of his position: 

I really thought that if, at a certain point, I had had those tracks [from 
Remain In Light ] and had carte blanche to write whatever I wanted, 
song-wise, over the top ... I think that I could have explored this intri- 
cate song form that I was getting into more thoroughly. But I didn’t 

feel comfortable about usurping the compositional role any more than 

20 

I had done already." 

Eno had more of a “carte blanche” to explore this direction in his collaboration with David 
Byrne on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, recorded in 1979 just prior to the sessions for Remain 
In Light. The title is borrowed from a metaphorical book by Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola 
about a young man who ventures out beyond the confines and traditions of his native village 
into the mysterious, unknown bush country. Both Eno and Byrne had, for a number of years, 
been interested in non-Western musical styles, particularly those of sub-Saharan Africa and of 
the Arabic cultural sphere, in the Talking Heads/Eno records, such influences function implic- 
itly, but on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts they become explicit. Eno’s ambitions were high: he 
wanted to make “fourth world music,” which he defined as 

music that is done in sympathy with and with consciousness of music 

of the rest of the world, rather than just with Western music or just 

with rock music. It’s almost collage music, like grafting a piece of one 

culture onto a piece of another onto a piece of another and trying to 

make them work as a coherent musical idea, and also trying to make 

2 1 

something you can dance to. 

Over rhythmic and harmonic backing tracks played by Eno, Byrne, and eleven other musi- 
cians, Eno and Byrne superimposed taped voices from a variety of sources, for example: on 
“America is Waiting,” an “unidentified indignant radio host, San Francisco, April, 1980”, on 
“Mea Culpa,” the voice of Dunya Yusin, a Lebanese mountain singer from a recording called 
The Human Voice in the World of Islam', 22 on “Help Me Somebody,” fragments of a sermon 
broadcast by the Reverend Paul Morton in New Orleans in June, 1980, and on “Moonlight in 
Glory,” the voice of Egyptian popular singer Samira Tewfik, taken from an EMI recording, 
Les Plus Grandes Artistes du Monde Arabe. 

Some critics found the musical borrowings offensive. Jon Pareles wrote that “like most 
‘found’ art, [My Life in the Bush of Ghosts] raises stubborn questions about context, manipu- 
lation and cultural imperialism.” 23 Although the sources of the voices on the album are duly 

20 Kurt Loder, “Squawking Heads: Byrne and Eno in the Bush of Ghosts,” Rolling Stone 338 
(5 March 1981), 46. 

21 Amirkhanian, “Eno at KPFA,” 12. 

22 Tangent Records TGS 131. 

3 Jon Pareles, “Records: Does this Global Village Have Two-Way Traffic? My Life in the 
Bush of Ghosts, David Byrne and Brian Eno,” Rolling Stone 340 (2 April 1981), 60. 


156 



acknowledged on the sleeve, are there ethical or legal limits to the uses an artist can make of 
another’s material? The issue is complex, and is bound to be examined more closely as the 
media net - not to mention the web of ethnomusicological scholarship - extends its domain 
and efficiency with each passing year. The idea of fair use, which has always been open to 
various interpretations, is complicated by the undeniable fact that Westerners are possessed of 
greater means to reach (and exploit) the cultural products of less developed nations than the 
other way round. 24 In the middle and late 1980s, the advent of sampling synthesizers, which 
enable users to take a digital snapshot of a sound from someone else’s music and then incor- 
porate that sound into their own, has only made the debate over fair use more heated than 
ever. 

My Life In The Bush of Ghosts is an album of pieces that succeed in eerily evoking the image 
of a pluralistic, world-wide contemporary culture of cultures knit together tenuously by mod- 
ern sound recording and telecommunications. Many, since Marshall McLuhan first worked 
out the idea, have written about the transformation of human reality in the 20th-century 
“global village”, Eno and Byrne’s album gives this concept tangible musical form. High-tech 
studio electronics mix with the sounds of airwave exorcisms, traditional Qu’ran chanting, and 
a battery of percussion ranging from congas and agaong-gong to found objects such as ash- 
trays, wastebaskets, and tin cans. 

What, if anything, distinguishes My Life In The Bush of Ghosts in the long history of Western 
art concerned with other arts and cultures - from the grafting of folk melodies into nationalist 
symphonies, the exoticism of Matisse’s paintings of harems or the transfigurative realism of 
Picasso’s cubist collages, the pentatonic orientalism of Debussy’s “Pagodes,” the antiquarian- 
ism of Bach’s stile antico ricercars, the classicization of jazz in Stravinsky’s Ebony Con- 
certo,” Mozart’s “Turkish” music, or the Beatles’ popularization of the sitar in “Within You 
Without You”? The main difference lies in Ghosts’ s location in a cultural context much 
broader than most previous artists were capable of envisioning. The context grows ever larger 
owing to the increasingly accelerated nature of communication and cultural interchange in the 
contemporary world. In the 1950s, an Elvis Presley could listen to country music and R&B on 
the radio and make a kind of music that owed something to both in a straightforward sort of 
way. In the 1980s, American and British pop and rock, having thoroughly assimilated African 
influences, is broadcast and sent on vinyl and cassette to locations world-wide, including Af- 
rica, where it is re -processed into styles like highlife and Juju, which in turn quickly have an 
impact on the development of Western pop. At some point this process becomes a closed cir- 
cuit, a perpetual feedback loop, a two-way or multi-way cultural mirror. The possibilities that 
remain to be seen in and through such mirrors are endless. Eno and Byrne’s My Life in the 
Bush of Ghosts, in its playful celebration of technology, world singing styles, and folk relig- 
ion, is such a mirror. 


24 As far as I know, Eno and Byrne have suffered no legal repercussions related to the borrow- 
ings on the version of Ghosts that was eventually released. The estate of Kathryn Kuhlman, 
the faith healer and radio evangelist, did refuse them permission to use excerpts from a 
Kuhlman address taped off the air in Los Angeles. Kurt Loder, “Squawking Heads: Byrne and 
Eno in the Bush of Ghosts,” Rolling Stone 338 (5 March 1981), 45. For a brief summary of a 
scholarly conference at which a number of sessions and papers addressed the issue of the ap- 
propriation of music, see Ruth Stone, “From the Editors: Hijacking Music,” SEM Newsletter 
21 (Jan. 1987), 2. 


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CHAPTER TWELVE: 

ESSENCE, HISTORY, AND BEAUTY 


The Music’s Essence 

“What is music?” is a question that leads off in many directions, and certainly no attempt will 
be made here to follow through on all of them. I shall perhaps raise more questions than I 
answer. If earlier generations of Western music theorists and philosophers have found the 
question hard to tackle, it is no less refractory today, in an age when ethnomusicologists have 
discovered that “each culture seems to have its own configuration of concepts” revolving 
around “music,” and that although all cultures appear to have “music,” some have no word 
that corresponds terribly closely to what we in the West understand by that term. 1 

If one of the thrusts of Cage’s thought on the subject was that “Everything we do is music” 
(implying that at the least, music is a form of human activity), the development of recording 
and playback technology has produced an opposing idea: nowadays, it seems, we do not have 
to do anything to participate in music, other than put on a record and take in the sound pas- 
sively - and such passive listening is certainly one level of activity for which Eno’s music is 
intended. 

What is the ontological status of what may seem to be increasingly non-human forms of mu- 
sic - music that is neither performed nor heard actively in any conventional sense? At what 
level is the human element operative? In much of Eno’s music, deeply ingrained notions of 
competence, practice, and virtuosity (or “athleticism,” to use Nettl’s term) do not apply - or 
do they? Eno may have been eager to admit his instrumental incompetence, but in the studio, 
he sits at the center of a sophisticated body of music-making machinery, just as the traditional 
composer does when writing for an orchestra, and in both cases what the mind is able to con- 
ceive and the ear hear is the result of training and discipline as well as imagination. 

Recording technology has made all musics seem equal: you put your LP, cassette, or CD on to 
the stereo, and there it is. But is that all there is to it? What went into the making of this or 
that music? And with the results coming out of the loudspeakers, does it matter? If for some 
people it does not matter, there are certainly many for whom it does. Bryan Ferry, the leader 
of Roxy Music, with whom Eno had collaborated between 1971 and 1973, was to say years 
later (“with a polite sniff,” according to the chronicler), “You see, Eno is a very clever fellow, 
but he’s not really a musician. He doesn’t know how to play anything. All he can do is ma- 
nipulate those machines of his. What he does, he does very well, but it’s necessarily limited 
music, 1 think.” 2 


1 Bruno Nettl, The Study of Ethnomusicology: Twenty-nine Issues and Concepts (Urbana, 
Chicago, and London: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 21. “The Art of Combining Tones,” 
the chapter from which this quotation is taken, is a masterful and exhilarating treatment of the 
ontological question - which is also a semantic question - with as close to a global point of 
view as may be possible at the present time. 

2 Ed Ward, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History’ of 
Rock & Roll (New York: Rolling Stone/Summit, 1986), 490. 


158 



If Eno’s non-musicianship was a stumbling block for Ferry, others may have qualms about 
whether sound that is made totally in the studio and often impossible to reproduce live should 
be called music at all. Eno himself has his doubts on this point, as we have seen. To use a cur- 
rent manner of speaking, if music is a real-time activity among cooperating humans producing 
real-time results, then much of what Eno has done with sound is indeed not music, but some 
new, different form of art. On the other hand, a good deal of time must be spent by any con- 
temporary keyboardist or electric guitarist simply assessing and mastering technological pos- 
sibilities, articles and advertisements in current musicians’ magazines put so much emphasis 
on equipment - analog and digital synthesizers, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), 
computers, tape recorders, effects devices - that an advertisement which announces, “The 
major in Music Synthesis at Berklee emphasizes ‘real-time’ performance skills” can seem 
something of an anomaly. 3 

Eno has been involved in a broad range of music-making activities of many different types. At 
one end of the spectrum are his live performances with other musicians - Roxy Music, Robert 
Fripp, the Winkies, 801, and others. In the middle are his studio collaborations on rock and 
ambient music albums. At the other end are his solo ambient records, particularly the title 
track of Discreet Music ” - a piece that was made almost accidentally, automatically, while 
Eno was running around the house devoting his attention to other things. Seen as a whole, 
Eno’s work prescribes no single answer to the question of what music is at the level of its 
making. 

A slightly different angle on the ontological question can be drawn by asking where a particu- 
lar kind of music exists along the line between composed and improvised forms. Different 
cultures and sub-cultures invest composition and improvisation with various kinds of value. 
For the most part, improvisation is currently held in low esteem by traditional art music com- 
posers and audiences - it may be a nice idea to think about, but few actually do it, on the other 
hand, for jazz musicians, and for rock musicians to a lesser extent, it is a way of life. 4 We may 
think we know the difference between improvisation and composition, but in fact the two 
concepts are by no means mutually exclusive. Composition in the traditional sense can be 
seen as a kind of improvisation in ultra-slow motion, conversely, even when improvising 
“freely,” musicians are usually operating within more or less fixed stylistic, formal, textural, 
“compositional” limits - improvising is composing in real-time. 

Eno has made music occupying various segments along the line between composition and 
improvisation. The structure of a piece like “2/1” from Music for Airports is compositionally 
pre-determined down to the last detail, once the tape loops have been made and set in motion. 
In many other pieces, he used raw materials generated in a quasi-improvisational setting and 
then shaped them in the studio according to his empirical methods of timbral treatment, tex- 
tural experimentation, and editing. Still other pieces, like some of the instrumental tracks on 
Another Green World, seem to be relatively untreated recordings of free collective improvisa- 
tions within certain prescribed limits. And in some of his collaborations with Fripp, such as 
“The Heavenly Music Corporation,” once the tape recorders were turned on, both musicians 
simply played with the variables, whether this meant spontaneously producing certain kinds 


3 Advertisement for Berklee College of Music, College Musician 1 (Fall 1986), 37. 

4 For an overview of “Improvisation, extemporization” in Western and non-Western cultures, 
see the article by Bruno Nettl in Don Randel, ed., The New Harvard Dictionary of Music 
(Cambridge, Mass, and London: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 1986), 392-4. 


159 



of melody in a given tonal framework or making alterations along the signal-delay path. Im- 
provised music is ever open to the criticism - and to the very real threat - that the musicians 
are “just noodling around,” simply running on automatic. But in most of Eno’s works involv- 
ing one or another forms of improvisation, we can perceive the active involvement of discern- 
ing intelligence in a real-time process. 

Insofar as the question of music’s essence can be posed at the level of the social context in 
which music functions, Eno’s work again provides a range of answers. Live performance in 
front of concert audiences has been a part of his career, if a fairly small one. His audio-visual 
installations take on the character of art exhibits when set up in galleries, and of background 
ambiance in airports. Finally, his progressive rock and ambient music albums find their pri- 
mary social context on the home stereo system, where they can function as decorative or fine 
art, depending on the inclination of the user. Eno does not flinch when asked to comment on 
the criticism that some of his works seem to be “merely decorative”: 

I find it revealing that Kandinsky acquired the licence for what he was 
doing in 1912-15 through having had a background in the decorative 
arts - his fairy-tales, illustrations, Jugendstil, mythologies, and so on. 

In those contexts you’re allowed to be fanciful and brightly coloured 
without having to defend it. In a way it was decorative art, and decora- 
tive art has an enviable freedom in some respects. 5 

It may be a bit facile to say that music is what people think it is, yet thinking about it - theo- 
retically, ontologically, historically, aesthetically - is undeniably part and parcel of the musi- 
cal experience. 6 Eno, in a steady stream of liner notes, interviews, and articles, has provided a 
continuous flow of theorizing about his own music, and some knowledge of this theorizing 
can indeed add to the listener’s appreciation of the music itself. In a fundamental way, how- 
ever, the music is able to, and does, speak for itself. Theorists have always made a supplemen- 
tal exegetical exercise out of translating musical symbols, whether heard or written, into non- 
musical ideas, typically involving some combination of verbal language and mathematics. 
Music theory as a sort of exalted numbers game has a long history, stretching back to Py- 
thagoras’s calculation of interval ratios, running through Renaissance enthusiasm with regard 
to the niceties of diatonic, chromatic, and enharmonic genera, through Enlightenment reduc- 
tion of harmonic phenomena to functional root progressions, to Schenkerian voice-leading 
graphs and set-complex theory in the present century. Eno has been more inclined to theorize 
about music-making processes than about musical materials per se, but when he plans compo- 
sitions around the idea of layers of synchronized or non-synchronized cycles of events - and 
speaks to the press about it - he is contributing to the ongoing Western music theory tradition, 
however marginally aware he may be of that tradition. 


5 John Hutchinson, “Brian Eno: Place #13,” color brochure (Dublin: Douglas Hyde Gallery, 
1986), n.p. 

6 There is a creative element in the musical perceptions, attitudes and thoughts of all audi- 
ences, not simply in those of composers and performers. People do not take in music pas- 
sively, no matter how rigid the current Western division of labor into musicians and non- 
musicians may appear. John Blacking, “Music in the Making: Problems in the Analysis of 
Musical Thought,” Bloch Lectures, University of California, Berkeley, 1986. 


160 


Yet the theoretical tradition has had little direct impact on the way most people perceive mu- 
sic. Although theory and analysis certainly represent a continuous conversation - and proba- 
bly an indispensable one - in the totality of the world’s musical discourse, I doubt whether a 
precise measurement of the tape-loop lengths of Eno’s “2/1” is likely to hold any greater sway 
over most listeners’ reaction to the sounding surface than is an explanation of the operation of 
tone row forms in Webern’s Symphony, Op. 21. A suggestion that recurring cyles underlie the 
piece’s structure is enough, and Eno knows it. 


The Music’s History 

If we ignore for the moment all the discussion and debate revolving around popular music and 
art music, originality and epigonism, we may be struck by the fact that most Western music of 
all kinds since 1950 has indeed found something to rally around, something that is deeply 
symbolic and symptomatic of our culture and its values. I am referring to electronic technol- 
ogy, the sound recording, and the attendant transformation of the listening experience. Though 
value is granted to “live” music, and to the vitality of direct participation in musical events, 
whether as performers or as audience, the rise of electronic technology has affected the mean- 
ing of music in ways still only dimly guessed at. Even when electronic amplification is not 
used in the concert itself (and it must be, if more than about 3,000 people are going to hear 
what is going on), one almost inevitably sees the dangling microphones with wires leading to 
hidden tape recorders that are engaged in preserving the music - if only for the contemporary 
composer, who may never otherwise hear his piece again. It is as though the event is not real 
unless frozen on tape. 

In one form or another, the image of technology is a central icon in contemporary culture, and 
that image has profoundly affected the ways in which music is perceived, used, and thought 
about. 7 Brian Eno can be singled out as a musician who has taken serious stock of technol- 


7 The cultural symbolism or mythology behind this state of affairs is so involved that I can do 
no more here than point the reader in its general direction. Among the works that have helped 
to guide my own thinking on this vast topic are Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society 
(New York: Vintage, 1964), a classic statement of the pervasiveness of efficiency- 
engendering yet creativity-strangling “technique” in every aspect of modern life, Carl Sagan, 
The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Rise of Human Intelligence (New York: Random 
House, 1977), which includes a discussion of “information” as a biological, genetic phenome- 
non that spilled over first into the brains of the higher mammals and is now filling up libraries 
and computer tape at an exponentially growing rate, John Shepherd, Phil Virden, Graham 
ulliamy, and Trevor Wishart, Whose Music? A Sociology’ of Musical Languages (London: 
Latimer, 1977), a multi-pronged set of Marxist arguments concerning, among other things, the 
relationships between media, social process, and music, culture-specific oral and visual orien- 
tational modes, tonality’s encoding of the industrial world sense, and the social stratification 
of 20th-century music, Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition, 2nd ed., Collected Works of C.G. 
Jung, Vol. 10, Bollingen Series 20 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), a probing 
series of essays in which the author applies to a wide range of modern issues and problems his 
insights and theories having to do with the functioning of the personal and collective uncon- 
scious, and E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (New 
York: Harper & Row, 1975), a plea for social, political, economic, and cultural decentraliza- 
tion in an age of dangerously powerful, technologically based modes of organization. 


161 



ogy’s position in the world, and of his position vis-a-vis technology. With his eclectic back- 
ground in conceptual art, progressive rock, and tape manipulation, he was particularly quali- 
fied to do so, and was able to approach technological resources in a fresh new way, lending 
his own musical tastes and sensibilities to the process. 

Where exactly does Eno stand in the history of electronically produced and distributed music? 
In Chapter 1, I brought up some of the conceptual issues involved in attempts to distinguish 
popular from art music, and concluded that there was little point in trying to assign Eno’s mu- 
sic to either category. Here I would sum up the contribution of Eno’s music to both mega- 
genres, and suggest that he is among the musicians who have done much to obscure or erase 
the distinction between them. 

After the invention of magnetic recording tape, early experiments in electronic music in 
France and Germany in the 1940s and 1950s took on an aura of rarefied research. Composers 
were entranced with the possibilities of making new sounds and manipulating them on tape, 
new aesthetic realms seemed to open up, and the last thing these composers wanted to do was 
to produce music that sounded in any way conventional. For several years approaches to the 
new tools were split along national lines - the Germans with their purely electronically gener- 
ated music, the French with their musique concrete consisting of manipulated found sounds. 
An American - John Cage - was taking a different approach, with his strange, irreverent per- 
formance pieces in which radios were tuned randomly. Another American, Milton Babbitt, 
was less interested in the newly revealed timbral universe than in the fact that working with 
oscillators, filters, and tape enabled him to create precisely planned, complex rhythmic and 
pitch structures beyond the abilities of mere human musicians to play. 

Thus from its very beginnings, electronic music, though often considered as a single category, 
never implied a single aesthetic, a single kind of sounding surface, nor a particular philosophy 
of music-making. Electronic music is not something in itself, it is something different people 
use for different purposes. Echoes of many of the early approaches can be heard in Eno’s 
work. Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gesang der Junglinge (1956), with its treated voices that 
bleed imperceptibly into electronically produced sounds, has parallels in Eno’s continual 
search for a blend of the recognizable and the other-worldly. 8 Edgar Varese’s Poeme electro- 
nique, a spatial installation in Le Corbusier’s Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair in 
1958, used four hundred loudspeakers and was combined, in a non-synchronized way, with 
visual projections of photographs, paintings, montages, and printed and written phrases - a 
total environment, in short, very reminiscent of Eno’s later audio-visual installations. I have 
already discussed at length Cage’s influence on Eno, and here would stress only the element 
of playful conceptual experimentation so evident in both composers’ work with electronics. 
Babbitt’s electronic serialism constitutes a “system” whose intellectual properties Eno might 
well admire: Eno, too, has made pieces that almost seem to write themselves once certain 
structural parameters are laid down. But aesthetically, Eno and Babbit are poles apart. 


8 Conceptual pieces by Stockhausen from the 1960s, like Aus den Sieben Tagen, certainly 
belong to the whole process-art movement that so influenced Eno, yet so far as I know Eni 
has never mentioned Stockhausen in interviews or published works. The link between Stock- 
hausen and Eno was no doubt Cornelius Cardew, yet the conceptual relationship between the 
three musicians is complicated - Cardew having gone through a violent break with Stock- 
hausen, and Eno having rejected Cardew’ s political stance. See Cardew, Stockhausen Serves 
Imperialism, and Other Articles (London: Latimer New Dimensions, 1974). 


162 



In the 1960s, approaches to electronic music technology proliferated, and again Eno’s work 
can be seen as an extension of trends set in motion during that period. One important devel- 
opment was the realization by composers that by and large, audiences would not abide per- 
formerless concerts of electronic music. Watching spinning reels of tape on the stage was 
simply not engaging, there had to be at least the suggestion of some sort of human activity. A 
range of new performance practices sprang up, typically involving either real-time human- 
machine interaction or mixed-media conglomerations of events where the taped electronic 
music was not the sole or even primary focus of attention. Eno’s albums (and concerts) with 
Robert Fripp are of the “interaction” type, and his audio-visual installations are of the mixed- 
media type. 

A milestone in the public acceptance of electronic music technology was Walter Carlos’ 
Switched-On Bach of 1968. In the previous decades, composers had attempted to integrate 
electronic intmments - such as the Theremin, Ondes Martenot, Ondioline, and Univox - into 
a more or less traditional musical setting, but for the most part electronics had been used to 
create strange, metallic, mechanical-sounding noises that many people simply could not ac- 
cept as music. It took a new, compact, portable instrument - the Moog synthesizer - and a 
virtuoso electronic reading of a set of unquestionably canonic art-music masterpieces to con- 
vince audiences (and undoubtedly many composers and musicians as well) that the new tech- 
nology could produce something more than disembodied beeps and boops. Switched-On Bach 
was simultaneously conservative and radical: if it left little doubt that what was heard was 
actually music, the process involved in its making gave one pause. The commercial success of 
Eno’s ambient music may well rest on a similar dialectic: in its resolutely consonant tonal 
idiom, and in its relaxed, gentle, smooth emotional ambiance, it does not demand that the lis- 
tener cope with a violently expressive modernist musical idiom in addition to coping with 
unfamiliar timbral realms and conceptual subtleties. Its aesthetic surface is warmly inviting, 
altogether lacking in the machine-music connotations that have plagued electronic music from 
its beginnings. 

The history of electronic technology in rock reads rather differently from its history in the art- 
music world. In the beginning was the amplifier - a device that quickly outgrew its original 
purpose of making things louder. In the hands of musicians like Chuck Berry and Muddy Wa- 
ters, who plugged in their guitars, the amplifier became an instrument capable of producing a 
wide variety of new tone colors, while elevating its user to the status of a technological sha- 
man, unlike the art-music electronic composer, whose image was more that of a research 
technician in a white lab coat. From its beginnings, electronics in rock have emphasized the 
human-technology performance interface. 9 

Among the electronic landmarks in rock up to the time of Eno’s arrival on the scene, one 
would have to include the experiments in studio multi-tracking techniques and electronic and 
concrete sound sources by the Beatles ( Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967) 
and the Beach Boys {Pet Sounds, 1966), Jimi Hendrix’s dazzling late- 1960s integration of 


9 Greg Armbmster, ed., The Art of Electronic Music: The Instruments, Designers, and Musi- 
cians Behind the Artistic and Popular Explosion of Electronic Music, compiled by Tom 
Darter (New York: Quill/Keyboard, 1984), is a valuable and detailed summary of the field, 
refreshing for its refusal to rigidly separate developments in rock, art music, film music, and 
new age music, it contains a sixty-four-page “History of Electronic Musical Instalments” and 
interview/profiles of nearly thirty leading designers and musicians. 


163 



technology and showmanship, noise and music, composition and improvisation, Pete Town- 
shend’s use of the synthesizer in a non-keyboard manner in songs like “Baba O’Reilly’’ 
(Who’s Next, 1971), the layered electronic textures and glorification of the synthesizer as an 
organ-like keyboard instalment in albums by classical/progressive rock groups like Emerson, 
Lake & Palmer and Yes, and Stevie Wonder’s funkification of electronics in the early and 
middle 1970s. Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon deserves mention here be- 
cause of its tight synthesis of electronic and traditional instrumental textures, and because, a 
decade and a half after its release, it is still on the album charts, continuing to exert an influ- 
ence on younger musicians. Like Walter Carlos with Switched-On Bach, all of these 
musicians extended the timbral range of more or less pre-existent musical styles with the help 
of the new technology, and in the process were able to carry a large audience on to an 
appreciation of the musical possibilities. 

The German synthesizer rock movement throws Eno’s work into perspective. The two leading 
groups, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, have been interpreted as representing two poles in 
an ongoing struggle between classical and romantic aesthetic ideals. Kraftwerk, Eno, the 
Doors, Thomas Dolby, and others sought streamlined, economical textures and refrained from 
excessive rhetorical display, Tangerine Dream, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Gary Wright and 
other “romantics” built up lavish, quasi-orchestral textures and went after passionate emo- 
tional statements. Bob Doerschuk puts it in the following way: 

In their adherence to the traditional elements of rock, these [“classi- 
cal”] keyboardists parallelled Stravinsky’s return to Mozartean classi- 
cal form in symphonic music some fifty years earlier. Long after the 
words “punk” and “new wave” had lost their shock value, this idea 
persisted and continued to grow in rock. It is accurate to describe the 
proliferation of keyboard-oriented dance bands as a classical reaction 
to the new romanticism, and to recognize the musicians in these 
groups as the new classicists . 10 


10 Bob Doerschuk, ed., Rock Keyboard (New York: Quill/Keyboard, 1985), 157. Much of 
Doerschuk’ s book, which consists of Keyboard magazine interviews with over two dozen 
musicians strung together by perceptive commentary, is organized around the classi- 
cal/romantic idea, with chapter subtitles like “The Rock Organ Romantics,” “Advent of the 
New Romantics,” and “Electronics and the Classical Ethic.” Linear interpretations of the his- 
tory of rock using concepts borrowed from art music have proven tempting to more than one 
writer. Compare Eric Salzman, Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction (Englewood Cliffs, 
N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1974), 189, 191: “Rock rather quickly passed through its own classical 
period, the end of which was symbolized by the breakup of the Beatles ... The pop movement 
... is passing quickly through a cycle of classicism, romanticism, experimentalism, neo- 
classicism, and revival - the same cycle which jazz took a few decades and traditional music a 
couple of centuries to pass through”, and John Rockwell, “Art Rock,” in Jim Miller, ed., The 
Rolling Stone Illustrated History’ of Rock & Roll (New York: Rolling Stone/Random House, 
1976), 322: “There is a morphology to artistic movements. They begin with a rude and inno- 
cent vigor, pass into a healthy adulthood and finally decline into an overwrought, feeble old 
age. Something of this process can be observed in the passage of rock and roll from the three- 
chord primitivism of the Fifties through the burgeoning vitality and experimentation of the 
Sixties to the hollow emptiness of the so-called progressive or ‘art’ rock of the Seventies.” 


164 



Doerschuk goes on to assess Eno’s influence on rock. His lack of keyboard technique meant 
that his work “was unencumbered by the traditional perceptions that piano training often im- 
posed on other performing synthesists.” Other rock keyboardists found little in Eno’s music to 
imitate in terms of a specific playing style, but his many types of songs, his ambient music, 
his conceptual approach to avant-garde and classical sources, and his work as a producer did 
stimulate “countless young artists to liberate themselves from the musical conventions in 
which they had been raised, and to follow no dogma - including Kraftwerk’s techno-rock 
gospel - blindly.” 11 

In Chapter 2 I discussed the important impact early minimalist music had on Eno in the late 
1960s, he was fond of ’s In C, was positively enamored of Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain, and 
had performed LaMonte Young’s X for Harry’ Flynt. Here I would point out that the minimal- 
ism-rock connection, viewed as a whole, is not so much one of overlapping styles - though 
many have noted in both the marked emphasis on rhythmic subtlely and repetition - as of 
overlapping audiences, involving a generation brought up on phonograph records and increas- 
ingly uninhibited by or unconcerned with the philosophical and ideological distinctions be- 
tween high and low art. From a social point of view, the decisive event in the connection be- 
tween rock and minimalist genres is not to be found among examples of stylistic fusion, as in, 
for instance, Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air (1969), Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells 
(1973), or King Crimson’s Discipline (1981), rather, it is the signing of a multi-record con- 
tract - symbol of success in the rock world, and decidedly an anomaly in the art music world 
- with CBS by Philip Glass, who cut his teeth in downtown New York rock clubs and went on 
to write operas performed at the Met, while still remaining in touch with his earlier constitu- 
ency by collaborating with popular music luminaries like David Byrne, Paul Simon, and 
Linda Rondstadt on his 1986 album Songs from Liquid Days. 

While Eno has written no operas, he stands very much at the center of this fluid historical 
situation in which genres and audiences mix and blend, causing confusion not only amongst 
those who would persist in categorizing music as art or popular at the abstract level, but 
amongst those whom the ever-changing demographics of music consumption force to invent 
new marketing strategies - the record industry and retailers. If one goes into a record shop in 
a town like Berkeley, California, one finds Eno’s ambient music in bins whose labels have 
been created only within the last few years: in Tower Records the label reads 
“Space/Meditation,” and in Leopold’s next door it reads “New Age.” The 1980s have seen a 
proliferation of recorded music linked stylistically to Eno’s first ambient experiments of over 
a decade ago and to the minimalist music in the air since the 1960s. 

New age music, as the music industry seems to be leaning towards calling the genre, has be- 
gun to develop its own record labels, distribution networks, radio shows, periodicals, and 
catalogs. 12 What one finds in the record bins is a variety of music ranging from untreated ste- 


11 Doerschuk, Rock Keyboard, 149. 

12 Billboard does not yet have an official chart for this kind of music, but has been running 
articles on its commercial development (e.g., Steven Dupler, “New Age Labels Seek New 
Angles,” in which record companies are said to be facing a “glutted” market, one label execu- 
tive is quoted as saying that among the tasks of the current year is to “separate the crap from 
the real music”), and an anonymous agent has been running an advertisement called the 
“Monthly British New Age Chart.” See Billboard 99 (31 Jan. 1986), 1, 68. A nationally syn- 
dicated weekly public radio program, “Music from the Hearts of Space,” emanates from San 


165 



reo recordings of ocean surf, forest wind, and whale song to compositions written and exe- 
cuted entirely by computer programs, such as Larry Fast’s Synergy’: Computer Experiments, 
Vol. 1 (1980). Somewhere in the middle is a range of electro-acoustic music by composer- 
performers such as the American Steve Roach (Structures from Silence, 1984) the German 
Chaitanya Deuter (Nirvana Road, 1984), the Greek Vangelis Papathannasiou (Chariots of 
Fire, 1981), and the Japanese Kitaro (Silk Road I & II, 1986), as well as solo acoustic piano 
improvisations, arrangements, and compositions by the genre’s commercial heavyweight, the 
Windham Hill label’s George Winston. Solo flute recorded by Paul Horn inside the Tae Ma- 
hal, vocal multiphonics recorded by David Hykes in a French cathedral, hammer dulcimer by 
Laraaji recorded with electronic echo by Eno in a studio - such are the varieties of new age 
music. Most of it shares a tranquil atmosphere, a non-developmental nature, a focus on tone 
color as a primary element of musical expression, and a high level of unabashed diatonicism 
and consonance. 

Eno’s direct contributions to this genre are manifest: his records sit in the bins alongside the 
rest. More difficult to claim unequivocally is his position as one of the founders of the genre. 
The minimalists of the 1960s came first, but it may well have been Eno’s original, popular 
ambient records of the late 1970s, as much as any other single factor, that got the ambient 
sound in people’s ears, that provided the foundation for and impetus behind a thorough explo- 
ration of a new realm of musical possibilities. 


The Music’s Beauty 

Let us return to the paradoxical questions raised at the beginning of this book. Is Eno’s music 
divinely simple or merely simplistic? Is it primal and elemental, or primitive and elementary? 
Posed thus, such questions do not admit of easy answers, because Eno’s music is designed to 
operate on many different levels. In his progressive rock, there is certainly the level of har- 
monic primitivism, though not quite the “three-chord primitivism” of which Rockwell wrote 
in connection with the rock and roll of the 1950s. But what a wealth of other levels in Eno’s 
songs: verbal irony and word play, musical nostalgia, contemporaneity, and futurism, experi- 
mentation in different kinds of compositional processes, and a number of different song-types 
- assaultive, pop, strange, and hymn-like, none of them used quite conventionally, and taken 
together adding up to a rich variety of expression. 

Eno’s ambient music is likewise multi-levelled. At one level is its apparent surface simplicity, 
unassertiveness, and high degree of consonance - hence its suitability for use as an ignorable 
background “tint.” But Eno has simultaneously succeeded in his effort to pack enough subtle 
musical information into his ambient pieces to enable them to stand up to close, repeated lis- 
tening. 


Francisco, under the direction of Anna Turner and Stephen Hill, Eno has reportedly written a 
fan letter to the show, which reads in part, “If I’d been offered the chance to design a late 
night radio show, I don’t think I would have come up with anything closer to my own taste.” 
See Rod Smith, “What is Spacemusic!,” FM 91 Public Radio (California State University, 
Sacramento, Feb. 1987), 5. Anna Turner and Stephen Hill also publish the catalog Spacemu- 
sic: Music by Mail, 1986, a 97-page annotated listing of hundreds of LPs, CDs, and cassettes. 
The first issue of John Patrick Lamkin, ed., Music of the Spheres: A New Age Music & Art 
Quarterly (Taos, N.M., 1986), came out in early 1987. 


166 




In Western music, whether popular or classical, originality is a major criterion of aesthetic 
importance and success. As we have seen, Eno believes that the importance of innovation in 
the creation of art-works is greatly overrated, accounting for only a small percentage of a 
piece’s real content. Can we point to anything specific, in the way of a style, a technique, a 
use of musical materials, that constitutes Eno’s original musical contribution? He has not 
really invented any new song types, though his strange songs are still among the strangest in 
the rock repertory. He has made no breakthroughs in terms of harmonic, formal, melodic, or 
rhythmic technique. His conceptual approach to art and music is firmly rooted in ideas that 
had become public domain by the mid-1960s. Even the gentle aesthetic and philosophy of his 
ambient music was not particularly revolutionary. Music with a similarly relaxing and repeti- 
tive surface has been around for centuries, for instance in certain Baroque keyboard ground 
basses and Viennese symphonic slow movements, even the idea of music as part of an envi- 
ronmental ambiance had already taken many forms - organ music in church, dinner music for 
aristocrats, carillons echoing across greens and rooftops, film music, commercial Muzak itself 
- before Eno seized on it. 

Eno should be viewed, then, not so much as an innovator as one of those artists who takes a 
number of existing trends and ideas and forges them into a new synthesis. Once again, the 
comparison with Stravinsky seems apt - Stravinsky, who wrote Russian ballets, neo-classical 
orchestral works, jazz-art hybrids, sacred polyphony, and twelve-tone pieces, putting his own 
individual stamp on everything he touched, and doing it all at the highest level of craft. 

Part of Stravinsky’s craft involved orchestration, and it is indeed in the realm of timbre and 
texture that claims for innovation on Eno’s part can most convincingly be made. Timbre has 
conventionally been regarded as a secondary element of musical expression - the colors that 
enliven and highlight the real musical structure, the skin that covers the skeleton and muscle. 
Lack of attention to nuances of timbre, and relegation of the whole matter to secondary im- 
portance in the compositional process, are so deeply entrenched in our cultural inheritance 
and consequently in our listening practices as to present a real stumbling-block to those who 
would approach Eno’s ambient music with ears oriented in a horizontal, linear fashion. For 
this is sculptural, spatial, non-narrative music - music that we are invited to move in and 
around and through, music that encourages us to listen in terms of the fine-tuning of the har- 
monic series, the balance between tone and noise, the perpetual play of shifting hues. In Eno’s 
ambient music, and, to a lesser extent, in his progressive rock, the traditional balance of and 
interaction between elements is reversed: motivic work is there, harmony is there, rhythm is 
there (somewhere), but in itself Eno’s use of these elements is often just as conventional as the 
orchestration of Beethoven’s symphonies. If in the classical work the timbre adorns the struc- 
ture, then in the ambient work the structure can be said to adorn the timbre. 

To appreciate the lengths to which Eno has gone to give breath and life to the color of sound 
itself, one need only listen to a piece like “Discreet Music” - a work which, for Eno, is rela- 
tively monochromatic - side by side with a new age piece apparently sharing similar aesthetic 
ideals and a similar approach to musical materials, such as Steve Roach’s “Structures from 
Silence.” The surface effect is much the same in both: the pieces are long (almost exactly half 
an hour), slow, quiet, diatonic, consonant, repetitive, electronically produced, recorded with 
very long reverberation times that lend the music a sense of spaciousness. But in Roach’s 
composition, the tone colors themselves are rather formica-like: clean, flat, smooth, constant 
and unchanging, with just a touch of low-depth chorusing. In “Discreet Music,” on the other 


167 



hand, the tone color is constantly undergoing shifts of equalization, so that the “same” melo- 
dies resemble now a whistle, now a flute, now a muted foghorn. The third of Arnold Schoen- 
berg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16, of 1912 (“The Changing Chord - Summer Morning 
by a Lake - Colors”), is based on a similar idea: a lack of dramatic external motion and obvi- 
ous rhythmic events in the music is offest by constantly changing, subtle shifts in orchestra- 
tion. Schoenberg even coined a word for this idea: Klangfarbenmelodie, a melody of sound 
colors. Whether he is aware of it or not, Eno has taken this idea and made it the basis of his 
musical style. 13 

If the aesthetic impact of Eno ’s music depends to a large extent on timbre and texture (texture 
being simply layers or levels of individual timbres), another important - and related - contri- 
bution is his “holograph” paradigm of composition, according to which music can be made 
that seems to stay substantially the same even while continuously shifting in its details. While 
the idea itself is not original, being derived primarily from his study of minimalist tape-phase 
pieces, Eno has systematically pursued a set of musical possibilities that the new paradigm 
illuminates. The paradigm itself necessitates a tonal frame of reference no more than serial 
methods necessitate an atonal frame of reference, yet most minimalists working along these 
lines have made their music single-mindedly tonal, and Eno is no exception. Once again, this 
is a case of an artist who is exploring new territory, and yet who feels that the maps he makes 
must be capable of being read - and enjoyed. Eno has said as much - he wants his music to be 
seductive. 14 

In the preceding chapters we have seen a number of writers attempt to capture some of the 
language-defying sense of Eno ’s music through picturesque and sometimes surreal metaphors. 
And indeed, as in writing of any kind about music of any kind, there comes a point where the 
vessel of language seems to shiver and burst, unable to contain the precious essence - music - 
it is tiying to hold. Medieval philosophers saw, heard, and conceived music as an evocation of 
the myriad overlapping rhythms of the cosmos. Eno’s long ambient pieces consisting of over- 
laid cycles of events give contemporary life to this ancient image. The duration of the world is 


13 A recent historical and theoretical discussion of Schoenberg’s famous movement is found 
in Wayne Slawson, Sound Color (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of Califor- 
nia Press, 1985), 3-21, in which the author, “motivated by the assumption that composition 
with sound color requires a theory,” examines and criticizes the major existing studies of tim- 
bre: Pierre Schaeffer, Traite des objets musicaux (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1968), Robert 
Erickson, Sound Structure in Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), and 
Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot, Sonic Design: The Nature of Sound and Music (Englewood 
Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1980), see also Slawson’s 18-page bibliography. Slawson’s own 
concept of “sound color,” which is exceedingly well thought-out and formally precise, is not 
concerned with “timbre” as such, which is a more general term encompassing such sound- 
characteristics as attack and decay, vibrato, and periodic and aperiodic fluctuations in pitch 
and amplitude, as well as the harmonic or overtone structure of sounds. Although tempted to 
borrow and broaden Slawson’s evocative term “sound color” for the purposes of this study, I 
have stuck with the traditional terms “timbre” and “tone color,” which I have used more or 
less interchangeably, relying on their accustomed if inexact connotations to carry the argu- 
ment. 

14 The concept of scientific research as a process conditioned by and heavily dependent on the 
invention of paradigms was advanced systematically by Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Sci- 
entific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). An analogous process can 
be seen to operate in music history. 


168 



vast, an hour on a “Thursday Afternoon” short, yet time during that hour seems to expand, to 
slow down, invested with the sense of the magical which it has fallen to art to summon up. If 
we may occasionally yearn for some time-lapse photography to speed things up, that may be 
because we live in a very artificially accelerated age. 

Music deals with time and exists in time, and may be seen as a sacred observation of the mys- 
tery of time. Whether through classical symphony, Renaissance mass, reggae dance, jam ses- 
sion, or ambient soundscape, time marked by music is set aside, consecrated. Music concen- 
trates time, making us aware of different levels of temporal magnification, from immense 
historical vistas to momentaiy transitions. It enhances and focusses our ability to perceive 
changes, fluctuations, and developments in an overall state. Music is paradoxical: profoundly 
unnaturalistic, presenting an abstract temporal tableau, it may nevertheless poignantly evoke 
not only realms of common, everyday experience, but images of the grandeur of eternity. 
Eno’s music is capable of thus transforming time, for those who would listen. 

Amen. And may I now have my dough, please? 


169 



GLOSSARY 


This glossary defines many of the musical terms used in this book, it is not intended as a 

comprehensive list of musical vocabulary. A fine reference work such as Don Michael Ron- 
del's The New Harvard Dictionary’ of Music (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard 

University Press, 1986) makes a valuable addition to any musician’s or music-lover’s library. 

Cross-references are indicated by bold type. 

Aeolian mode. See Mode. 

Aleatory music. A trend in avant-garde composition since the 1950s. The French composer 

Pierre Boulez and others wrote scores that gave performers unprecedented degrees of 
freedom, allowing them to choose notes, inteipret graphic notation, rearrange a 
piece’s sections, and so on. Aleatory music is somewhere between composed and 
improvised music. 

Atonality. The absence of any feeling of tonality or key. Atonal music was pioneered by the 
composer Arnold Schoenberg (Austria), Charles Ives (United States), and Alexander 
Scriabin (Russia) in the early years of the 20th century. Atonal music characteristi- 
cally makes free use of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. Many later compos- 
ers have experimented with atonality, and it remains a viable force in the musical 
world today, though largely ignored by the vast majority of active popular musicians. 

Cadence. A sense of psychological pause between phrases or at the end of a piece of music. 

The harmonic (chord) progressions used to articulate such breaks or endings are also 
called cadences. 

Chord. Any combination of three or more notes. Chords are the building blocks of harmony. 
In tonal music (see Tonality), the most common types of chords are triads and sev- 
enth chords. 

Chord symbols. Letters or numbers used to indicate chords. The standard Roman numeral 
system is used in this book. In the key of C major: 

C Dm Em F G Am 

I ii iii IV V vi . 

In the key of C minor: 

Cm Eb Fm Gm Ab Bb 

i III iv v VI VII. 

The Roman numeral system has the advantage that it is “global” - that is, the numer- 
als can be applied to the chords of any key. Using Roman numeral chord symbols is 
like thinking on the plane of one universal, abstract key. 

Chromatic alteration. Raising or lowering a note by a half-step. 

Chromatic scale. The set of 12 pitches within an octave: A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#. 

Common practice period of music history. Roughly 1600-1900. During this time-span, 

Western art-music composers created and spoke in what was felt to be a common, in- 
ternational, even universal musical language. Music from the common practice pe- 
riod constitutes the bread and butter of performances by symphonies, chamber 
groups, opera companies, choral ensembles, and solo recitals. 

Consonance and dissonance. Perceived psychological qualities of intervals and chords. In 
general, intervals and chords that sound restful, euphonious, stable, or smooth are 
considered consonant, ones that sound tense, harsh, unstable, or scratchy are consid- 


170 



ered dissonant. From the Middle Ages to the present day Western theorists have de- 
bated and categorized the relative consonance and dissonance of the array of inter- 
vals and chords, such categorizing is a hazardous enterprise since aural judgements 
are to some degree subjective, and depend on the tunings used as well as the musical 
context. Generalized consonance and dissonance levels can, however, be assessed in 
actual pieces of music, or even in whole musical styles. Haydn’s style is consonant 
compared to Schoenberg’s, with Bach’s somewhere in between. Most styles utilize 
both dissonance and consonance, and indeed the constant battle between the two 
plays a primary role in the psychological meaning of the music. 

Counterpoint. The art or craft of combining two or more simultaneous melodies to produce a 
satisfying and logical flux of consonance and dissonance. 

Diatonic scale. The white notes on the piano keyboard. Using a pattern of whole-steps and 
half-steps (whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half) results in a scale with 
seven notes to the octave. Diatonicism is thus basically “white-note music,” al- 
though the diatonic scale can be transposed to incorporate the black keys as well. 

Dissonance. See Consonance and dissonance. 

Dorian mode. See Mode. 

Drone. A long, unchanging pitch or pitches, sometimes sustained for the entire length of a 

musical piece, typically in the medium-to-low registers. Some types of music, for in- 
stance certain kinds of classical Indian music, use players whose sole function is to 
play a drone instrument. 

Dynamics. The dimension of loud and soft in music. 

Envelope of a sound. One of the primary determinants of timbre. An isolated tone or noise 
can be described in terms of how fast the sound arises from silence, how fast the ini- 
tial attack decays, how long the sound is sustained, and how long it takes for it to fall 
back to silence. The total profile of attack-decay-sustain-release is known as the 
(AD SR) envelope. Percussive instruments like drams and cymbals typically have 
shaip attacks, wind instruments have relatively longer attacks. A note struck on a pi- 
ano will slowly decay to silence, whereas other sounds can be sustained indefinitely. 

Equal temperament. The system of tuning pianos and other keyboard instruments that rose 
to prominence in the middle of the eighteenth century, displacing a variety of other 
tuning systems such as mean-tone temperament and just intonation. In equal tem- 
perament, all half-steps are exactly the same distance apart, and all keys contain the 
same intervallic relationships. This makes modulation to all keys possible, but, ac- 
cording to some critics, results in the loss of important values of absolute conso- 
nance, since in equal temperament the only acoustically pure interval is the octave. 

Ethnomusicology. The study of the musics of the world, especially those of non-Western 

cultures. Ethnomusicology as a discipline has been strongly influenced by anthropo- 
logical concepts and methods. 

Form. The shape, in time, of a piece of music. All forms are governed by the principles of 

repetition and contrast in varying degrees. Repetition gives unity and coherence to a 
piece, contrast lends variety and interest. 

Functional harmony. The system of chords and chord progressions (movements from one 
chord to another) developed by Western composers after 1600 and still widely used 
in both popular and art music. Functional harmony works with principles of tension 
and resolution, one chord leading to the next in ways that listeners have come to feel 
are logical and satisfying. A course in functional harmony is a course of every col- 
lege music curriculum. Since 1900, many composers have abandoned functional 
harmony, searching for new systems of harmonic organization, while many popular 
songwriters, unaware of the tradition of functional harmony, have empirically cre- 
ated chord progressions that accomodate their own musical needs. 

Fundamental. See Harmonic series. 


171 



Ground bass. An repeated bass melody used as the foundation of a musical composition or 
improvisation. 

Half-step. The smallest interval in the Western musical system. 

Harmonic. See Harmonic series. 

Harmonic series and related terms. Rapidly vibrating objects like the strings in a piano vi- 
brate not only along their entire length but along fractions of their length. The vibra- 
tion along the entire length produces the fundamental tone heard, which is normally 
the loudest. The various fractional vibrations produce the various overtones, which 
are softer than the fundamental. The relative strength of the overtones plays a large 
role in determining the timbre of the instrument. “Harmonic series” (or “harmonic 
spectrum”) is the name for the array of overtones plus the fundamental. Harmonic 
(used as a noun) is more or less synonymous with “overtone.” The only difference 
between partial and overtone is that the fundamental is considered a partial, though 
not an overtone. 

Harmony. In the broad sense, the vertical dimension of music: the interaction of simultane- 
ous pitches to produce chords. The study of harmony also includes chord progres- 
sions, or movements from one harmonic entity to another. In the narrow sense, 
“harmony” can mean simply “chord.” Harmony in the musical sense implies no aes- 
thetic judgement, it can be consonant or dissonant. 

Indeterminate music. Type of music pioneered by American composer and philosopher John 
Cage and others in the 1950s in which certain elements are determined not by con- 
scious choice, but by chance operations such as the tossing of dice. 

Interval. The vertical distance between any two pitches. The smallest interval in common use 
in Western music is the half-step, also known as the minor second and the semitone. 
All other intervals are whole-number multiples of the half-step. The commonly used 
intervals are named as follows: 


Hal f -steps Interval name 


1 

2 

3 

4 

5 


minor second 
major second 
minor third 
major third 
perfect fourth 


6 

7 

8 

9 

10 
11 
12 


augmented fourth or diminished fifth 

perfect fifth 

minor sixth 

major sixth 

minor seventh 

major seventh 

octave 


Key. 1.) The physical black and white controls of the keyboard - the things your fingers touch 
- are called keys. 2.) Key in the theoretical sense means a scale with a specific tonic 
note, such as the key of C major. See Tonality. 

Locrian mode. See Mode. 

Lydian mode. See Mode. 

Melody. Any coherent succession of pitches can be called a melody. A melody is usually a 

continuous line of music that stays within a one- or two-octave range. Melodies may 
be phrased to a greater or lesser extent. Motives are often used as the building blocks 
of longer melodies. 


172 



Meter (noun), metrical (adj.). A meter is a pattern of accented and non-accented beats. Most 
pieces of popular and classical music are strongly metrical - that is, involve a consis- 
tent pattern of accenting from beginning to end. Many kinds of music, however, use 
shifting patterns of accents, and still other kinds use no “beat” or sense of pulse at 

all. 

Middle C. The C nearest the middle of the piano. Middle C is also approximately the pitch at 
the middle of the total human vocal range. 

Minimalism. Musical style developed in the 1960s by Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and others. 
Minimalism was a reaction against the intellectual complexities and harsh disso- 
nance of atonal and serial music of the preceeding decades. Minimalist music is 
usually highly tonal (sometimes using drones and static harmonies) and highly 
rhythmic (often using percussive and/or keyboard instruments), such music tends to 
be highly repetitive at some levels, though constantly changing at others. Much 
minimalist music seems to call for a “vertical” mode of hearing, as opposed to the 
“horizontal” mode of traditional music: the music presents itself as a spatial object to 
be contemplated like a sculpture, rather than as a linear argument to be followed like 
a plot. (See Vertical listening.) Some of the “new age” music of the late 1970s and 
1980s can be seen as an outgrowth of the minimalist aesthetic. 

Mixolydian mode. See Mode. 

Mode. 1.) In general terms, a mode is simply a scale. Any set of pitches arranged in a consis- 
tent pattern and used as the basis of a piece of music can be considered a mode. 2.) 

In the specific sense of the word, a mode is one of eight “Church modes” recognized 
by music theorists in the 16th century. These modes are still in use, particularly the 
two that are equivalent to our modern major and minor scales. The Church modes 
were originally associated with specific tonics (D for Dorian, E for Phrygian, etc.), 
today they are freely transposed. In psychological terms, the modes can be rated on a 
“brightness/darkness index,” as in the following chart, where 1 stands for the bright- 
est mode and 7 stands for the darkest: 

Ionian mode (major scale) : CDEFGAB/ Bright: 2 
Dorian mode: DEFGABC/ Somewhat dark: 4 
Phrygian mode: EFGABCD/ Very dark: 6 
Lydian mode: FGABCDE / Very bright: 1 
Mixolydian mode: GABCDEF/ Fairly bright: 3 
Aeolian mode (minor scale) : ABCDEFG/ Dark: 5 
Locrian mode: BCDEFGA/ Extremely dark: 7 

Motive. Motives are short melodic or rhythmic fragments used as the building blocks of 

longer melodies or of entire musical pieces. Motives can be repeated literally, or can 
be elaborated or varied in any number of ways. The motivic procedure is found in 
many kinds of music ranging from classical sonata to jazz improvistion. 

Musicology. Literally, the science of music. In an ideal world, musicology might mean the 
study of all forms of music - their history, social and spiritual functions, aesthetics, 
and technical aspects (acoustics, theory, instruments, etc.). In the real academic 
world, musicology has largely consisted of the study and criticism of the history of 
Western art music. Other related academic disciplines include ethnomusicology, 
music theory, and composition. 


173 



Note. 1.) Any single pitch produced by a musical instalment: the sound itself. 2.) A symbol 
used in musical notation for such pitches: whole note, quarter note, etc. 

Obbligato. A significant, yet secondary and largely ornamental melodic line. 

Octave. The fundamental interval of all music. Pitches an octave apart “sound the same” - 
it’s just that one is higher and the other is lower. Pitches an octave apart sound so 
similar that they are given the same name, making the labelling of musical pitches a 
cycle of recurring letters (A-G) rather than a linearly extended series. The acoustical 
explanation of the psychological phenomenon of the octave hinges on the fact that 
frequencies of notes an octave apart always stand in the archetypal number relation- 
ship 1:2. Middle C, for instance, represents a vibration of 256 cycles per second, the 
C an octave above it represents a vibration of 512 cycles per second. 

Ostinato. A short, repeated, “obstinate” melody forming the background structure of a piece 
of music. (Think of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper.”) Ostinatos are widely used in com- 
posed as well as improvised music. 

Overtone. See Harmonic series. 

Pandiatonicism. A type of harmony in which notes of the diatonic scale are freely com- 
bined. Neither so smooth as functional harmony nor so harsh as atonality, pandia- 
tonic chords have been used by composers as a sort of middle ground since the early 
years of the twentieth centuries. 

Partial. See Harmonic series. 

Phrygian mode. See Mode. 

Pitch. The realm of pitch is the realm of high, medium, and low sounds. In the specific sense, 
pitch means roughly the same thing as “note” - that is, a discrete level in the overall 
vertical sound-spectrum. Tone has a related meaning, but refers specifically to the 
sound produced, whereas note can also refer to the notated symbol for the sound, 
and pitch can refer to the abstract idea of the sound. Tone also carries the connota- 
tions of a “musical” tone - that is, a sound produced by regular, periodic fluctuations 
in air pressure. In this sense, the concept of tone is used to distinguish “musical” 
sounds from noise, which arises from irregular, aperiodic vibrations, and can be 
high- or low-pitched. 

Register. A rather loose term referring to the pitch spectrum: low pitches are in the low regis- 
ter, medium pitches are in the middle register, and high pitches are in the high regis- 
ter. Human voices, as well as many other instalments, can be classed according to 
register: bass (low), tenor (medium low), alto (medium high), and soprano (high). 

Repeat signs. The sign :|| tells the performer to go back and repeat everything before the sign, 
or as far back as the sign ||:. 

Roman numeral notation. See chord symbols. 

Root (of a triad or other chord built in thirds). The defining member of a chord - the note by 
which the chord is named. No matter what the voicing or spacing used for a chord 
may be, and no matter what the actual bass (lowest) note is, the root remains the 
same: it is the lowest note of the chord when the chord is arranged so that its member 
notes stack up neatly in thirds. The root of the chords A-C-E and C-E-A is the same: 
A. 

Scale. 1 .) Broadly, the total pitch material available for making music in any given culture or 
style. 2.) Specifically, any of a large number of pitch-sets, traditionally arranged in 
ascending order. In this sense “scale” is almost indistinguishable from “mode” in the 
large sense. 

Serialism, serially organized music. Serialism is a method of organizing musical materials 
such as pitch (but also, sometimes, rhythm, dynamics, and timbre) in specific, re- 
peating ways. The serial method grew out of Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone sys- 
tem, and provided many mid-twentieth-century composers with an alternative to to- 
nality. In serially organized music, various quasi-mathematical operations are per- 


174 



formed on pre-determined pitch sets to provide the melodic and harmonic materials 
for the composition. 

Seventh chord. Four-note chord built in thirds. The most commonly used types are shown 
here: 


B Bb Bb 

G G G 

EE Eb 

c c c 

Major 7th Dominant 7th Minor 7th 

Subdominant. In Roman numeral notation (see Chord symbols), the subdominant is IV - 
that is, the triad based on the fourth scale step. 

Syncopation. Displacement of accents from their normal place in the measure. Traditionally, 
4/4 meter had accents on beats 1 and 3, in much jazz and rock, 4/4 has accents on 
beats 2 and 4, giving jazz and rock a syncopated feel. Accenting beats 2 and 4 has 
become such a convention in itself, however, that perhaps it should not be called 
syncopation any more. For syncopation to exist, there must be a metrical norm such 
that displacement of accents will be felt as a temporary violation thereof. 

Tempo. The speed of the basic pulse or beat in a piece of music. Music with no pulse or beat 
has no tempo as such. 

Texture. Refers to the blend of the various instruments, voices, melodic lines, and chords in a 
piece of music. Three basic types of texture are: monophonic texture (one melodic 
line with no accompaniment), homophonic texture (a melodic line with some kind of 
susidiary accompaniment) and polyphonic texture (two or more simultaneous, inter- 
acting melodic lines) - see Counterpoint). Between pure homophony (for instance a 
singer accompanying himself with chords on guitar) and pure polyphony (for in- 
stance a fugue by Bach) there is a range of mixed textures in which several distinct 
layers of sound vie for attention. 

Theme. Loose term signifying the basic topic or idea of a piece of music. Depending on the 
form of the piece, a theme can be short or long, a melody or a chord progression, or 
even a small motive or hook. 

Theme and variations. Musical form that can be diagrammed A A1 A 2 Ai ... An. A theme is 
stated at the beginning of the piece and is then subsequently repeated in any number 
of varied ways. 

Theory (of music), Music theory. The body of interpretive, analytical, and acoustical knowl- 
edge that has grown up around the practice and performance of music. In the Western 
theoretical tradition, harmony, counterpoint, and form have received the most atten- 
tion. 

Timbre, tone color. A violin, piano, human voice, and guitar sound different, even when they 
all play the same note. The quality of sound that distinguishes one instrument from 
another is called timbre. Timbre has always been an important part of the musical 
experience, when one hears an electronic version of a piece by Bach, or an orchestral 
version of a rock song, one realizes how important timbral values are in determining 
one’s response to music. Composers have always used the distinctive timbres of 
various instruments to color their music. However, in the past few decades, musi- 
cians have begun to compose with timbre, making the color of sound itself the pri- 
mary focus of interest. The development of synthesizer technology, with its limitless 
timbral options, has significantly affected the way modern musicians think about 
music, a whole new universe of sound color has opened up. In technical terms, the 
two primary determinants of timbre are: the relative strength of the various overtones 
in a given note (see Harmonic series), and the note’s amplitude profile or envelope 


175 



(the sharpness of attack, the level of sustain, and the length of time it takes for the 
note to stop sounding when released). The sounds of traditional acoustic instalments 
often have extremely complex envelopes and overtone spectra, and it has taken time 
and effort for synthesizer designers and users to develop equally complex and inter- 
esting sounds through electronic means. 

Tonality, tonal music, tonal system. 1) In the broadest sense, tonal music is music using a 
specific scale or mode and showing a tendency to give one note in that scale more 
structural weight than the others. The majority of all musical types from all times and 
places is tonal in this broad sense. 2) In a narrower sense, tonality is a harmonic sys- 
tem that dominated Western music for several centuries. (See common practice pe- 
riod). Tonal music in this sense is composed in a specific key - that is, it uses a par- 
ticular major or minor scale and emphasizes the key-note or tonic as a point of de- 
parture and return. Tonal music is based on a harmonic system having the triad as its 
fundamental unit, chords progress from one to another according to accepted princi- 
ples of functional harmony and voice-leading. The “tonal system” is the total com- 
plex of twenty-four major and minor keys and their interrelationships. 3) “Tonality” 
is also used in a more limited sense, as a synonym for “key”: “the tonality of C ma- 
jor.” 4) In recent years, popular music publications and electronic equipment owner’s 
manuals have used the word “tonality” to mean “timbre.” The different voices 
(sounds, patches) on a synthesizer, for instance, are said to represent different “to- 
nalities.” This usage is incorrect - another hopeless mix-up in the convoluted history 
of musical terminology. 

Tone. 1.) Synonym for pitch. 2.) The overall sound-quality a player or singer is capable of 
producing: “She sings with good tone.” In this sense, tone means something similar 
to tone color and timbre. 

Tone color. See Timbre. 

Tone-row. A set of pitches in a fixed order used as the basis of a composition employing the 
serial method. 

Tonic. 1) The psychologically central pitch in a piece of tonal music, the key-note. See To- 
nality. 2) The central chord in a piece of tonal music. In the key of C major, the C- 
major triad is the tonic chord. 

Tonic-dominant relationship. In tonal music of the common practice period, one chord 
progression has a special significance: the progression from dominant to tonic, or 
from V to I in Roman numeral notation (See Chord symbols.) Through perpetual 
usage, the movement from dominant to tonic chords (for instance, G to C in the key 
of C major) has come to acquire a feeling of tension followed by resolution, and is 
typically used at the end of musical phrases and at the end of a composition. 

Transpose. To take music out of one key and play it or write it in another. 

Triad. Three-note chord built in thirds. Triads are the harmonic building blocks of functional 
tonality, and hence of most contemporary popular music and Western art music 
composed before 1900. The four basic types of triad are illustrated here: 


G 

G 

Gb 

G# 

E 

Eb 

Eb 

E 

C 

C 

C 

C 

Ma j or 

Minor 

Diminished 

Augmented 


Vertical listening. Most traditional and popular music unfolds horizontally along the axis of 
time, and the listener hears the music as if listening to a verbal statement, thesis, or 
argument. In recent years, many composers have become interested in creating a type 
of music to be heard vertically or spatially: the listener finds himself or herself at the 
center of a universe of sound whose details can be inspected at leisure. Such music 


176 



tends to rely on subtle gradations of timbre rather than on the traditional elements of 
melodic and harmonic development and progression. See also Minimalism. 

Voice-leading. In traditional counterpoint, a fixed number of melodic lines interact with 

each other to produce the texture and harmony of the music. Voice-leading refers to 
the movement of the individual melodic lines, and to principles of how each line is to 
be “led” in order to avoid harsh and illogical dissonances. 

Whole tone. Interval containing two semitones or half-steps. 

Whole-tone scale. Seale consisting solely of whole tones, such as 
C-D-E-F#-G#-A#-C. 


177 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 


This bibliography contains materials by and about Eno, other articles and books used in my 

research, and other works cited in this book. As an aid to the curious browser, annotations are 

provided for some of the sources. Unsigned articles (mostly record reviews) are listed after a 

“?,” and are placed alphabetically according to the name of the journal or magazine. 

Aikin, Jim. “Records: The Plateaux of Mirrors and Fourth World, Vol. I: Possible Musics,” 
Contemporary Keyboard 6 (Sept. 1980), 71. 

. “Brian Eno,” Keyboard 7 (July 1981), 42 ff. 

Amirkhanian, Charles. “Eno at KPFA: 2 Feb. 1980, 13 March 1980, 2 April 1980,” 7 10-inch 
reels of 1/4” tape. Berkeley, California: collection of Charles Amirkhanian. Some six 
hours of taped Eno interviews conducted on three separate occasions in 1980. The 
first - by far the longest and most substantive - has been transcribed (see next list- 
ing). 

. “Brian Eno Interviewed 2/2/80 for KPFA Marathon,” unpublished typescript from 

taped interview of Eno by Charles Amirkhanian, transcribed by S. Stone, 29 Oct. 
1983. Berkeley, California: collection of Charles Amirkhanian. 31 pp. 

Armbruster, Greg, ed. The Art of Electronic Music: The Instruments, Designers, and Musi- 
cians Behind the Artistic and Popular Explosion of Electronic Music. Compiled by 
Tom Darter. New York: Quill/Keyboard, 1984. 315 pp. Valuable and detailed sum- 
mary of the field, refreshing for its refusal to rigidly separate developments in rock, 
art music, film music, and new age music, contains a sixty-four-page “History of 
Electronic Musical Instruments” and interview/profiles of nearly thirty leading de- 
signers and musicians. 

Austin, Alexander, and Steve Erickson. “On Music: Tell George Orwell the News,” Westways 
72 (Jan. 1980), 70-2. Includes appraisal of Eno. 

Bangs, Lester. “Records: Here Come the Warm Jets,” Creem 6 (Oct. 1974), 61-2. 

. “Records: ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)/ITl Come Running (To Tie Your 

Shoes),”’ Creem (Oct. 1975), 71. 

. “Eno Sings with the Fishes,” Village Voice 23 (3 Apr. 1978), 1, 49. 

. “Eno,” Musician, Player & Listener 21 (Nov. 1979), 38-44. 

Barnett, Homer. Innovation: The Basis of Cultural Change. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1953. 
462 pp. 

Barrell, Tony. “Eno Interview.” Australian Broadcasting Commission, Radio Station JJJ, 21 
Jan. 1978. Quoted in Eno and Mills, More Dark Than Shark (see entiy below). 

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine, 1972. 541 pp. 

Becker, Howard S. Art Worlds. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982. 408 pp. 
Interesting insights on the popular culture/high culture dialectic. 

Beckett, Alan. “Popular Music,” New Left Review 39 (1966), 87-90. 

. “Stones,” New Left Review 47 (1968), 24-9. 

. “Mapping Pop,” New Left Review 54 (1969), 82-4. 

?. “Review: Here Come the Warm Jets,” Beetle (May 1974), n.p. 

Beckett, Samuel. Company. New York: Grove, 1980. 63 pp. 

Beer, Stafford. Brain of the Firm: The Managerial Cybernetics of Organization. London: Allen 
Lane, 1972. 319 pp. 

Bell, Craig. “Records: ‘7 Deadly Finns,”’ Creem (June 1975), 70. 

Bell, Daniel. “Sensibility in the Sixties,” Commentary 51 (1971), 63-73. Somewhat reaction- 
ary account of some of the ideological currents in the popular and high arts: the “dis- 
solution of art,” the “democratization of genius,” “the Dionysian Pack,” etc. 


178 



Berklee College of Music, advertisement. College Musician 1 (Fall 1986), 37. 

Blacking, John. “Music in the Making: Problems in the Analysis of Musical Thought.” Bloch 
Lectures, University of California, Berkeley, 1986. 

Bloom, Michael. “Brian Eno: Theory and Practice,” Boston Phoenix (10 Oct. 1978), Music 
Supplement. 

. “Records: Ambient 1: Music for Airports,” Rolling Stone 296 (26 July 1979), 60-1. 

Blyth, R.H. Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1960. 

446 pp. 

Bowden, Elizabeth Ann. Performed Literature: Words and Music by Bob Dylan. Blooming- 
ton, Indiana: Indiana U. Press, 1982. 239 pp. The result of an English Ph.D disserta- 
tion at the University of California, Berkeley. 

Bradby, Barbara. “Do-Talk and Don’t Talk: Conflicting Voices in Sixties Girl-Group Songs.” 
Paper delivered at the Third International Conference on Popular Music Studies, 
Universite de Quebec a Montreal, 10 July 1985. Argues, through exhaustive analysis 
of pronoun usage in a number of songs, that the girl groups had their own identities, 
and were not merely passive actresses in a drama of male pop aspirations and mar- 
keting strategies. 

Bromberg, Craig. “Brian Eno at Concord,” Art in America 71:8 (Sept. 1983), 173-4. Review 
of a showing of Eno ’s video piece Mistaken Memories of the Medieval City. 

Brown, Charles T. The Art of Rock’N’Roll. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1983. 202 pp. 

Brown, Geoff. “Eno’s Where It’s At,” Melody Maker 48 (10 Nov. 1973), 40-1. 

. “Here Come the (Luke, Warm Jets,” Melody Maker 49 (23 Feb. 1974), 18. 

. “Review: Here Come the Warms Jets,” Melody Maker (16 March 1974), 31. 

Brown, Mick. “Life of Brian According to Eno,” Guardian (1 May 1982), 10. 

. “On Record: Brian Eno,” Sunday Times Magazine (31 Oct. 1982), 94. 

Brown, Roger. “The Creative Process in the Popular Arts,” International Social Science Jour- 
nal 20 (1968), 613-24. 

Burkholder, J. Peter. “Museum Pieces: The Historicist Mainstream in Music of the Last Hun- 
dred Years,” Journal of Musicology 2 (1983), 115-34. Treats, among other things, the 
strange exclusion of jazz and popular music from many musicologists’ concept of 
“new music” (which can be as much as 75 years old). To be fair, it should be pointed 
out here that there are signs of change in the musicological establishment. The disci- 
pline’s most prestigious American organ, the Journal of the American Musicological 
Society, under the editorship of Anthony Newcomb, has in recent years been publish- 
ing articles on jazz, such as Scott DeVeaux’s “Bebop and the Recording Industry: 

The 1942 Recording Ban Reconsidered,” 41 (Spring 1988), 126-65. 

Cage, John. Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage. Middletown, Ct.: Wesleyan Uni- 
versity Press, 1976. 276 pp. 

Cardew, Cornelius. Stockhausen Serves Imperialism, and Other Articles. London: Latimer 
New Dimensions, 1974. 126 pp. 

Carrier, David. “Interpreting Musical Performances,” Monist: An International Quarterly 
Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry 66:2 (1983), 202-12. Carrier’s goal is to 
develop a theory of musical performance, according to the thesis that “musical per- 
formance involves moral obligation.” The serious, theoretical discussion ranges over 
thoughts of E.H. Gombrich, Charles Rosen, Nelson Goodman, and others. Eno’s 
provocative liner notes to Discreet Music are brought into the discussion as an ex- 
ample of “the abolition of [the] conception of performance in much [contemporary] 
non-directional music.” 

Carroll, Noel. “Reviews: Choreographers Showcase 1,” Dance Magazine 56 (Apr. 1982), 104. 
Brief notice on a program by young choreographers, one of whom used music from 
Byrne and Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. 

Carson, Tom. “Records: Before and After Science,” Rolling Stone 265 (18 May 1978), 82-3. 

?. “Review: Another Green World,” Cassettes and Cartridges (Feb. 1976), 443. 


179 



?. “Review: Here Come the Warm Jets,” Cassettes and Cartridges (June 1974), 113. 

Chambers, Iain. Urban Rhythms: Pop Music and Popular Culture. New York: St. Martin’s, 
1985.272 pp. 

Chester, Andrew. “For a Rock Aesthetic,” New Left Review 59 (1970), 83-7. 

. “Second Thoughts on a Rock Aesthetic: The Band,” New Left Review 62 (1970), 75- 

82. 

Christgau, Robert. “The Christgau Consumer Guide: Here Come the Warm Jets,” Creem (Apr. 
1975), 11. 

. “The Christgau Consumer Guide: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy),” Creem 

(June 1975), 11. 

?. “Record Lovers Guide: Don’t Overlook These Discs: Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy,” 
Circus (May 1975), 62. 

?. “Review: Another Green World,” Circus (8 Apr. 1976), 16. 

Cockrell, Dale. “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road, Side Two: 
Unification within the Rock Recording.” Master’s thesis, University of Illinois at 
Urbana, 1973. A quasi-Schenkerian approach to two large-scale song-structures of 
the Beatles’ most ambitious phase, has been criticized on the grounds of the putative 
inappropriateness of the analytical method. 

Cogan, Robert, and Pozzi Escot. Sonic Design: The Nature of Sound and Music. Englewood 
Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1980. 191 pp. 

Cohen, Mitchell. “Records: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,” High Fidelity 31 (May 1981), 77. 

Concannon, Kevin. “Michael Chandler and Brian Eno, Institute of Contemporary Art,” Artfo- 
rum 22 (Apr. 1984), 85-6. 

Cope, David. New Directions in Music. 2nd ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown, 1976. 271 
pp. Excellent survey. 

Cromelin, Richard. “Records: The Inmates Have Taken Over: Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Nico, 
Eno & the Soporifics, June 1, 1974,” Creem 6 (Dec., 1974), 64-5. 

Dagnal, Cynthia. “Eno and the Jets: Controlled Chaos,” Rolling Stone 169 (12 Sept. 1974), 
16-7. 

. “Eno & Co: ACNE,” Rolling Stone 169 (12 Sept. 1974), 17. “ACNE” is an acronym 

for [Kevin] Ayers, [John] Cale, Nico and Eno, this brief article recounts their short- 
lived live collaborations of 1974. 

Dahlhaus, Carl. Analysis and Value Judgement. Translated from the German by Sigmund Le- 
varie. New York: Pendragon Press, 1983. 87 pp. 

Dancis, Bruce. “Studio Plays Big Role in Music Composition, Says Brian Eno,” Billboard 92 
(22 March 1980), 29. 

Davis, Michael. “Records: Music for Films,” Creem 10 (Apr. 1979), 61. 

Davy, S. “Eno: Non-Musician on Non-Art,” Beetle (Jan. 1975), n.p. 

Dawbarn, B. “When Does Pop Become Art?,” Melody Maker 42 (June 10, 1967), 8. 

Demorest, Stephen. “Eno: the Monkey Wrench of Rock Creates Happy Accidents on Tiger 
Mountain,” Circus (Apr. 1975), 50-3. 

. “The Discreet Charm of Brian Eno: An English Pop Theorist Seeks to Redefine Mu- 
sic,” Horizon 21 (June 1978), 82-5. 

Dennis, Brian. “Repetitive and Systemic Music,” Musical Times 65 (1974), 1036-8. The 

paragraph-long New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians article on “minimal- 
ism” does little but refer the reader to a two-item bibliography. This is one of those 
items. Written before Eno’s development of the ambient sound, it does not take him 
into account, but provides a bit of historical background and analysis of a few pieces. 

Diliberto, John. “Ultravox,” Down Beat 50 (May 1983), 18. Extensive interview of the band 
whose first album Eno produced. 

Dockstader, T. “Inside-out: Electronic Rock,” Electronic Music Review 5 (1968), 15-20. Sur- 
vey of uses of electronics by groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Jeffer- 
son Airplane, the Doors, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Blues Project, 


180 



the Beach Boys, and Jimi Hendrix. Dockstader concludes: “Most of the electronic 
rock I’ve heard so far recalls the musique concrete of the fifties ... there is, as yet, lit- 
tle evidence of sophisticated generation or control of sound.” 

Doerschuk, Bob. Rock Keyboard. New York: Quill/Keyboard, 1985. 187 pp. Much ofDoer- 
schuk’s book, which consists of Keyboard magazine interviews with over two dozen 
musicians strung together by perceptive commentary, is organized around the classi- 
cal/romantic idea, with chapter subtitles like “The Rock Organ Romantics,” “Advent 
of the New Romantics,” and “Electronics and the Classical Ethic.” 

Dupler, Steven. “New Age Labels Seek New Angles,” Billboard 99 (31 Jan. 1986), 1. 

Durgnat, Raymond. “Rock, Rhythm and Dance,” British Journal of Aesthetics 11 (1971), 28- 
47. Brilliant approach to the aesthetics of rock via its rhythm, which is seen to 
awaken a particular sense of time that has been lost to modern man. 

. “Symbolism and the Underground,” Hudson Review 22 (Autumn 1969), 457-68. An 

art historian, Durgnat is fascinated by the parallels between these movements of the 
19th and 20th centuries, the “Underground,” never quite defined, refers to the whole 
complex of counter-culture/psychedelia/Eastern-religion/rock music of the late 
1960s. 

Duxbury Janell, Rockin’ the Classics and Classicizin’ the Rock: A Selectively Annotated Dis- 
cography. Discographies, Number 14. Westport, Ct. and London: Greenwood Press, 
1985.188 pp. 

Edwards, Henry. “Bryan Ferry and Eno: Hot Rockers Rock Apart,” After Dark 8 (June 1975), 
66-7. 

. “Records: Another Green World,” High Fidelity (June 1976), 101. 

Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. Translated from the French by John Wilkinson. 

New York: Vintage, 1964. 449 pp. Somewhat dated but still chilling indictment of 
contemporary values. 

Emerson, Ken. “Brian Eno Slips into ‘Trance Music,”’ New York Times (12 Aug. 1979), 

D:22. 

Emmerson, Simon. “Seven Obscure Releases,” Music and Musicians 25 (Jan. 1977), 20-2. 

Documents, discusses, and critiques the development of British experimental music 
through discussion of recordings on the Obscure label co-founded by Eno. 

Eno, Brian. “Music for Non-Musicians,” private publishing of 25 copies, ca. 1970, none of 

which are known to exist today, according to Eno’s management. Opal Ltd., London. 
This intriguing little essay is, however, discussed in Eno & Mills, More Dark than 
Shark. 

. “Text for a lecture to Trent Polytechnic,” 1974. This essay is quoted in Eno and 

Mills, More Dark than Shark. 

. “Shedding Light on Obscure Records,” Street Life (15-28 Nov. 1975). 

. “Generating and Organizing Variety in the Arts,” Studio International 984 

(Nov./Dec. 1976), 279-83. Reprinted in Battcock, Gregroy, ed., Breaking the Sound 
Barrier: A Critical Anthology of the New Music (New York: Dutton, 1981), 129-141. 
In Battcock’s anthology, Eno’s thoughts find a place side by side with those of Ben- 
jamin Boretz, Earle Brown, Elaine Barkin, Josef Rufer and a host of other contempo- 
rary composers, critics, and thinkers. See Terence O’Grady review below. 

. “Self-Regulation and Autopoiesis in Contemporary Music,” unpublished paper, 1978. 

Slated for appearance in an anthology that never materialized, this essay is quoted in 
Eno and Mills, More Dark than Shark. 

. “Video-installatie Mistaken Memories of Medieval New York, 1981.” Amsterdam: 

Stedelijk Museum, 1982. 2 pp. 

(excerpted by Howard Mandel). “Pro Session: The Studio as Compositional Tool,” in 

two parts, Down Beat 50 (July 1983), 56-7, and Down Beat (Aug. 1983), 50-2. 


181 



. “Works Constructed with Sound and Light: Extracts from a talk given by Brian Eno 

following the opening of his video installation, Copenhagen, January 1986.” Color 
brochure. London: Opal, Ltd., 1986. 

. “Brian Eno: Place #13, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin.” Color brochure. Dublin: 

Douglas Hyde Gallery, 1986. 15 (unnumbered) pp. See also Hutchinson in this bibli- 
ography. 

Eno, Brian, and Russell Mills. More Dark than Shark. “Commentaries by Rick Poynor, de- 
signed by Malcolm Garrett, photography by Martin Axon, additional photography by 
David Buckland.” London: Faber and Faber, 1986. 144 pp. Mills illustrates the lyrics 
(never before published in written form) to Eno’s songs written between 1973 and 
1977. Each song receives a distinct artistic treatment, with notes by Mills explaining 
the development of his painterly response to the words of the text. Eno provides 
notes on the genesis of some of the songs, as well as some discussion of the musical 
and studio processes involved, interspersed throughout are reproductions of pages 
from Eno’s notebooks - diagrams, drawings, wordplay, aphorisms, plans for projects, 
and “amateur mathematics.” Also included is a useful classified Eno work list for the 
period 1972-1986. 

Eno, Brian, and Peter Schmidt. “Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno,” Arts Review 29 (9 Dec. 

1977), 737-8. 

Eno, Brian, and Peter Schmidt. Oblique Strategies. Limited edition of 500 copies, London: 
1975, revised and reissued, London: 1978, 1979. 

Enovations. Journal of the official Eno fan club. 

Erickson, Robert. Sound Structure in Music. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975. 
205 pp. 

Fernbacher, Joe. “Records: Before and After Science,” Creem 9 (Apr. 1978), 67. 

Fletcher, Gordon. “Records: Here Come the Warm Jets,” Rolling Stone 172 (24 Oct. 1974), 

74. 

Fletcher, Peter. Roll Over Rock. London: Stainer & Bell, 1981. 175 pp. Assesses the split be- 
tween “classical” and “pop,” in a textbook-like format suitable for a course introduc- 
ing the general student to the history of Western music in all its forms. 

Fripp, Robert. “Speaking of Jimi,” Guitar Player 9 (Sept. 1975), 7. 

Frith, Simon. Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock’n’Roll. New York: Pan- 
theon, 1981. 294 pp. Revised version of The Sociology of Rock. Frith treats rock un- 
der three headings: ideology (its history and relation to mass culture), production 
(musicians and the music industry) and consumption (involving youth, leisure and 
sexuality). His insistence on focussing on the merely commercial aspects of rock can 
be maddening to the musician, yet there’s nothing quite like this book for the over- 
view it gives of the rock industry and its functions. 

Frohne, Ursula. “Review: Brian Eno: Tegel Airport, Institut Unzeit, Berlin,” Flash Art 
(Apr./May 1984), 42-3. 

Furlong, C. “AFI Frames the Field: The National Video Festival,” Afterimage 9:5 (Oct. 1981), 
4. Interesting insights into the commercial and artistic uses of the new medium. A 
53-minute, 4-monitor installation by Eno gets a brief notice. 

Gabree, John. “Serious Rock: Current Revolution in Pop Music,” Nation 206 (June 24, 1968), 
836-8. Early journalistic attempt to document the advent of progressive rock. Gabree 
writes: “What is new is that Pop music is reaching an audience that previously has 
been interested only in classical music or jazz.” 

Gaertner, James. “Art as the Function of an Audience,” Daedelus 86 (1955), 80-93. 

Gilmore, Mikal. “Record Reviews: Another Green World, Discreet Music, Evening Star,” 
Down Beat 43 (21 Oct. 1976), 24-5. 

. “Record Reviews: 801 Live,” Down Beat 44 (20 Oct. 1977), 26- 7. 

Goldstein, Richard. The Poetry of Rock. New York: Bantam Books, 1969. 147 pp. David 
Horn summarizes: “some 70 rock music lyrics from Chuck Berry to the Doors ... 


182 



comments on individual artists and writers.” Paul Taylor adds: “When it was pub- 
lished, the question of popular lyrics aspiring to be poetry was in issue of some im- 
portance. It now seems largely irrelevant.” 

Goldwasser, Noe. “Flowers Si, Cars, No ... the Real Sorrow and the Fake Piety ... Eno Al- 
ready: Mad Tapemonger to Highbrow It,” Village Voice 21 (26 Jan. 1979), 16-7. 

Gombrich, E.H. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation The 
A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1956, National Gallery of Art, Washington. 
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972. 466 pp. 

Gossett, Philip. “Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony: Sketches for the First Movement,” Journal of 
the American Musicological Society 28 (Summer 1974), 248-84. 

Grabel, Richard. Eno interview. New Musical Express (24 April 1982). 

Grant, Steven. “Brian Eno Against Interpretation,” Trouser Press 9 (Aug. 1982), 27-30. 

Hamm, Charles. “John Cage,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980). 

Hardy, Phil, and Dave Laing, eds. The Encyclopedia of Rock. London: Aquarius, 1976. St 
Albans: Panther, 1976. 3 vols. 

Henschen, Robert. “Contemporary: Music for Airports,” Music Journal 37 (Sept./Oct. 1979), 
62. 

Hoffman, Alan Neil. “On the Nature of Rock and Roll: An Enquiry into the Aesthetic of a 

Musical Vernacular.” Ph.D. dissertation (Music), Yale University, 1983. 231 pp. Lo- 
cates the “aesthetics” of rock within the matrix of three parameters: rock is a re- 
corded music, it is a type of song, and it is a kind of dance music. Hoffman’s way of 
approaching rock music, for all its formalism, does not seem to go beyond the obvi- 
ous. 

Hoffman, Frank W. The Literature of Rock, 1954-1978. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 
1981.337 pp. 

Hoggart, Richard. “Humanistic Studies and Mass Culture,” Daedelus 99 (1970), 451-72. In an 
interesting attempt to formulate the proper attitude of academic humanism towards 
mass culture, Hoggart runs through the familiar dichotomies springing from mass vs. 
fine art: brutal/genteel, low/high, processed/alive, evasive/honest, conven- 
tional/challenging, symptomatic/representative, exploitative/disinterested, etc. Al- 
though he allows that these dichotomies do not adequately assess the situation, his 
final stance is “to reassert the power and overriding importance of the high arts for 
the student of culture.” 

Holden, Stephen. “Pop Record Producers Attain Stardom,” New York Times (17 Feb. 1980), 
11 : 20 . 

Holland, Bill. “Cassettes Take 2-1 Lead Over Vinyl in Survey,” Billboard 98:50 (13 Dec. 
1986), 73. 

Hounsome, Terry, ed. New Rock Record. New York: Facts on File, 1983. 719 pp. 

Howell, Mark. “From a Strangers Evening with Brian Eno,” Another Room (June/July 1981), 
n.p. 

Hull, Tom. “Eno Races Toward the New World,” Village Voice 21 (12 Apr. 1976), 87-8. 

Hutchinson, John. “From Music to Landscape: A Personal Reaction to Brian Eno’s Video In- 
stallations,” in Brian Eno, “Brian Eno: Place #13,” color brochure. Dublin: Douglas 
Hyde Gallery, 1986, n.p. 

Hynde, Chrissie. Eno interview. New Musical Express (2 Feb. 1974). 

I Ching, or Book of Changes: The Richard Wilhelm Translation Rendered into English by 
Cary F. Baynes. 3rd ed. Bollingen Series 19. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 
1967.740 pp. 

Ingham, John. “Cracked Musician’s Head Is On the Mend,” New Musical Express (1 March 
1975), 8. 

Isler, Scott. “Going, Going, Ghana! David Byrne and Brian Eno Bring Africa to Soho,” Trou- 
ser Press 61 (May 1981), 23-7. 


183 



Jensen, Alan. “The Sound of Silence: A Thursday Afternoon with Brian Eno,” Electronics & 
Music Maker (Dec. 1985), 20-5. 

Johnson, Tom. “Music: The New Tonality,” Village Voice 23 (16 Oct. 1978), 115-6. Rare at- 
tempt, in a popular periodical, to come to grips with the renewed interest, on the part 
of contemporary composers such as Eno, Reich, Riley and Rzewski, in writing tonal 
music. 

. “New Music, New York, New Institution,” Village Voice 24 (2 July 1979), 88-9. This 

rambling review of the 10-day festival “New Music, New York” ambitiously at- 
tempts to sum up developments in the new music scene of the 1970s, highlighting 
the growing generational split between the older generation - Cage-inspired, East- 
ern-philosophy-influenced - and the younger - electric guitars in hand, performance- 
art-oriented. Eno appeared at the festival, reportedly pleading for inclusion of a sen- 
sual element in new music and criticizing what he felt was the over-stressed intellec- 
tual element. 

Jones, Allan. “Eno: On Top of Tiger Mountain,” Melody Maker 49 (26 Oct. 1974), 39. 

. “Albums: Eno’s Touch of Velvets: Eno, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy),” Mel- 
ody Maker 49 (2 Nov. 1974), 69. 

. “Caught in the Act: Fripp and Eno: Formal Beauty,” Melody Maker” 50 (14 June 

1975), 49. 

. “Eno - Class of ‘75,” Melody Maker 50 (29 Nov. 1975), 14. 

Jung, Carl. Civilization in Transition. 2nd ed. Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 10, 

Bollingen Series 20. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970. 609 pp. 

. “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle,” in his The Structure and Dynam- 
ics of the Psyche. 2nd ed. Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 8, Bollingen Series 20. 
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969, pp. 417-519. 

Kaplan, Abraham. “The Aesthetics of the Popular Arts,” in James Hall and Barry Ulanov, 

eds., Modern Culture and the Arts. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967, pp. 62-78. Origi- 
nally in Journal of Aesthetics (Spring 1966). 

Karpeles, Maud. “The Distinction Between Folk and Popular Music,” Journal of the Interna- 
tional Folk Music Council 20 (1968), 9-12. 

Kelp, Larry. “Brian Eno: Making Fourth World Music in Record Studio,” Oakland Tribune 
(11 Feb. 1980), C:6-7. 

Kent, Nick. “The Freewheelin’ Brian Eno,” New Musical Express (18 May, 1974), 15. 

Kerman, Joseph. Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology. Cambridge, Mass.: Har- 
vard University Press, 1985. 255 pp. Thoughtful contemporary critique of the chang- 
ing goals, methods, and subject matter of Kerman’s own discipline. 

. “Viewpoint,” 19th Century Music, 2 (1978), 186-91. 

Korner, Anthony. “Aurora Musicalis,” Artforum 24:10 (Summer 1986), 76-9. Includes a tear- 
out phonodisc of a new Eno composition, Glint: East of Woodbridge. 

Kozak, Roman. “Math Qualities of Music Interest Eno,” Billboard 90 (13 May 1978), 51. 

. “Rock’n’Rolling: Flo & Eddie, Eno & Phil, Godley & Creme Visited,” Billboard 94 

(3 Apr. 1982), 12, 72. 

Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago 
Press, 1962. 172 pp. 

La Barbara, Joan. “‘Radio Visions’ - NPR’s Exploration of the World of Sound,” High Fidelity 
31 (Dec. 1981), MA-13. Review of NPR’s “adventurous new series opening broad- 
casting vistas,” in which Eno found himself in the company of the likes of Henry 
Cowell, Virgil Thomson, Lou Harrison, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Cop- 
land, Lukas Foss, Daniel Lentz, John Cage, and Gunther Schuller. 

Lake, Greg, and others. “British rock: Are We Facing Disaster?,” Melody Maker 49 (21 Sept. 
1974), 8-9. 

Larrikin, John, ed., Music of the Spheres: A New Age Music & Art Quarterly. Taos, N.M.: 
1987. 


184 



Landau, Jon. “Paul Simon: ‘Like a Pitcher of Water,’” in Ben Fong-Torres, ed.. The Rolling 
Stone Interviews, Vol. 2. New York: Warner, 1973, 389-430. 

Levarie, Sigmund. “Key Relations in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera,” 19th Century Music 2 

(1978), 143-7. See also Levarie’s reply to Joseph Kerman’s criticisms (Kerman 1978, 
above), in 19th Century Music 3 (1979), 88-9. 

Levin, Kim. “The Waiting Room,” Arts Magazine 55 (Nov. 1980), 5. Review of a multi-artist 
installation that was set up for a day in Grand Central Station, New York City. Eno’s 
videos, it is reported peevishly, “didn’t grab the attention.” (Were they supposed to?) 

Limbacher, James. The Song List: A Guide to Contemporary Music from Classical Sources. 
Ann Arbor: Pierian, 1973. 229 pp. 

Loder, Kurt. “Eno,” Synapse (Jan. /Feb. 1979), 24-7. 

. “Squawking Heads: Byrne and Eno in the Bush of Ghosts,” Rolling Stone 338 (5 

March 1981), 45-6. 

Logan, Nick and Bob Woffinden. The New Musical Express Book of Rock. London: Star, 
1977. 553 pp. See also the revised editions of 1978 and 1979, originally The Illus- 
trated Encyclopedia of Rock. New York: Harmony, 1977. 256 pp. 

Loud, Lance. “Eno & Rupert: No Excess Genius,” Circus Raves (Sept. 1975), 16-17. 

Lubow, Arthur. “Eno, Before and After Roxy,” New Times 10 (6 March 1978), 72-3. 

. “Brian Eno: At the Outer Limits of Popular Music, the Ex-glitter Rocker Experiments 

with a Quiet new Sound,” People Weekly (11 Oct. 1982), 91, 93-5. 

MacDonald, Ian. Eno interview, New Musical Express (26 Nov. 1977). 

Mackinnon, Angus. Eno interview. New Musical Express (12 July 1975). 

Marsh, Dave and John Swenson. The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. New York: Random 
House/Rolling Stone, 1983. 648 pp. 

Marshall, Tony. “The Life of Brian,” Observer Magazine (23 Oct. 1983), 28-9. 

Mastriani, Tony. “Records: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy),” Creem (May 1975), 69. 

Matthews, Pete. “Review: Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy); Nico: The End; Sparks: 
Propaganda,” Records and Recording (Jan. 1975), 60. 

McKenna, Kristine. “Eno,” Wet 25 (July/Aug. 1980), 41-5. 

?. “The Roxy Music File,” Melody Maker 47 (14 Oct. 1972), 16. 

Melly, George. Revolt into Style: The Pop Arts. London: Allen Lane, 1970. 245 pp. 

Meltzer, Richard. The Aesthetics of Rock. New York: Something Else Press, 1970. 346 pp. 
Stream-of-consciousness response to the phenomenon of rock music. Laborious 
reading. 

Merton, Richard. “Comment,” New Left Review 47 (1968), 29-31. Cf. the articles by Chester 
and Beckett. 

. “Comment,” New Left Review 59 (1970), 88-96. 

Meyer, Leonard. Music, the Arts and Ideas: Patterns and Predictions in Twentieth-Century 
Culture. Chicago and London: Universtiy of Chicago Press, 1967. 342 pp. 

Mignot, Dorine. “‘The Luminous Image’: 22 Video-Installationen im Stedelijk Museum Am- 
sterdam,” Kunstforum International 9/10 (Jan./Feb. 1985), 59-83. 

Miles, ?. Eno interview. New Musical Express (27 Nov. 1976). 

Milkowski, Bill. “Brian Eno: Excursions in the Electronic Environment,” Down Beat 50 (June 
1983), 14 ff. 

Miller, Kathy. “Eno: Naked and Neurotic,” Creem 6 (Dec. 1974), 18. 

Miller, Gregory. “Brian Eno: On Video,” Soho News (2 July 1980). 

. “The Arts: Video,” Omni 3 (Nov. 1980), 28-9. Description/review of the video/music 

installation by Eno that was set up in the Marine Terminal of New York’s La Guardia 
Airport. 

Miller, Jim, ed. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. New York: Rolling 
Stone/Random House, 1976. 382 pp. 

Moore, Lee. “Eno = MC Squared,” Creem 10 (Nov. 1978), 26, 67-8. 


185 



Mulhem, Tom. “Robert Fripp on the Discipline of Craft & Art,” Guitar Player 20 (Jan. 1986), 
88-103. 

?. “Review: Another Green World,” Music Journal (June, 1976), 44. 

?. “Review: Evening Star, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy,” Music Journal 37 (Sept./Oct. 
1979), 26. 

Naha, Ed. “Record Lovers Guide: Picks of the Month: Brian Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets,” 
Circus (Dec. 1974), 61. 

Naha, Ed. “Review: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy),” Crawdaddy (May 1975), 76. 

Nassour, Ellis and Richard Broderick. Rock Opera. New York: Hawthorn, c. 1973. 248 pp. 

Nelso, Paul, ed. “The Year in Records: Vindication on Vinyl in 1981 ... My Life in the Bush of 
Ghosts, David Byrne and Brian Eno,” Rolling Stone (24 Dec. 1981), 101. 

Nettl, Bruno. The Study of Ethnomusicology: Twenty-nine Issues and Concepts. Urbana: 
University of Illinois Press, 1983. 410 pp. A landmark study. Nettl’s chapter “I’ve 
Never Heard a Horse Sing” (pp. 303-14, includes a brief history of how ethnomusi- 
cologists have used the categories of folk, art, popular, and primitive music. 

. The Western Impact on World Music: Change, Adaptation, and Survival (New York: 

Schirmer, London: Collier Macmillan, 1985). Many chapters in Nettl’s book discuss 
the uses of technology in, and impact of technology on, non- Western musics, the (in- 
credibly short) chapter on “Pop” (pp. 84-6) focusses on the dissemination of Western 
popular styles. Nettl characteristically dwells on exactly what people in the West 
(and those in other parts of the world) mean by “popular music.” 

?. “The Creation of the Universe,” New York 18 (25 Nov. 1985), 83. Glowing review of the 
PBS scientific documentary, for which Eno wrote the evidently cosmically evocative 
music: “It haunts and splashes and insinuates and confounds. It seems in its eerie 
modulations to be agreeing with Sandage - ‘There is no center to the beginning’ - 
and to be asking Sandage’s big-bang question: ‘Why is there something instead of 
nothing?”’ 

?. “Review: Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy,” New Musical Express (9 Nov. 1974). 

?. “Records: Another Green World,” New Musical Express (22 Nov. 1975), 20-1. 

Norman-Taylor, Anthea, and Lin Barkass, compilers. Opal Information (1986- ). This is a 

newsletter put out by Opal Ltd., Eno’s management company. It features articles by 
and about the musicians and artists represented by Opal. 

Nylon, Judy. “Eno’s Other Green Worlds,” Circus (27 Apr. 1976), 23. 

O’Brien, Glenn. “Eno at the Edge of Rock,” Andy Warhol’s Interview 8 (June 1978), 31-3. 

. “Bop Art,” Artforum 20 (Feb. 1982), 47-8. Substantial, if tongue-in-cheek critical 

account of the links between pop art and pop music: “So here was a Zeitgeist you 
could shake your booty to.” Eno’s achievements are discussed and summed up: “He 
has probably traveled more in both worlds than any of his contemporaries.” 

. “Glenn O’Brien’s Beat: My Mother the Ear,” Andy Warhol’s Interview 12 (Sept. 

1982), 107-8. 

O’Grady, Terence. “Reviews of Books: Breaking the Sound Barrier: A Critical Anthology of 
the New Music, Edited by Gregory Battcock,” Musical Quarterly 69 (Winter 1983), 
138-44. Eno’s essay “Generating and Organizing Variety in the Arts” was reprinted 
in the anthology under review here. O’Grady wrote his dissertation on the music of 
the Beatles. 

Padgett, Stephen. “New Age: Definitions,” Grammy Pulse: Official Publication of the Na- 
tional Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences 4 (Sept. 1986), 8-9. 

Palmer, Robert. “Brian Eno, New Gum of Rock, Going Solo,” New York Times (13 March 
1981), 111:17. 

Parakilas, James. “Classical Music as Popular Music,” Journal of Musicology 3 (1984), 1-18. 
A myth-debunking, category-demolishing, realistic discussion of the uses and per- 
ceptions of our “art-music” heritage. 

Pareles, Jon. “Records: Another Green World,” Crawdaddy (June 1976), 78. 


186 



. “I Am a Child: More Songs About Buildings and Food, Talking Heads,” Crawdaddy 

88 (Sept. 1978), 75. 

. “Records: Does this Global Village Have Two-Way Traffic? My Life in the Bush of 

Ghosts, David Byrne and Brian Eno,” Rolling Stone 340 (2 April 1981), 60. 

. “Riffs: Eno Uncaged,” Village Voice 27 (4 May 1982), 77-8. 

Pareles, Jon, and Patricia Romanowski, eds. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. 
New York: Rolling Stone/Summit Books, 1983. 615 pp. 

Payes, Robert. “Review: On Land,” Trouser Press 9 (Aug. 1982), 41. 

Peel, Mark. “Disc and Tape Reviews: Ambient #4 - On Land,” Stereo Review 

47 (Nov. 1982), 105. 

Pethel, Blair W. “Keith Emerson, the Emergence and Growth of Style: A Study of Selected 
Works.” Ph.D. dissertation (Performance). Peabody Conservatory. 

Peyser, Joan. “The Music of Sound, Or, the Beatles and the Beatless,” Columbia University 
Forum 10 (1967), 16-22. Positive appraisal of progressive movements in rock. Pey- 
ser writes: “The best of rock is moving with unprecedented speed into unexpected, 
more artistically interesting areas.” 

Piccarella, John. “Riffs: Possible Arabias,” Village Voice 26 (20 May 1981), 80. 

Pichaske, David R. The Poetry of Rock: The Golden Years. Peoria, 111.: The Ellis Press, 1981. 
173 pp. The “Booklist” in Popular Music 3 comments: “Literary discussions of 
1960s rock lyrics, based on the author’s college teachings.” 

Piston, Walter. Harmony, 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1962. 374 pp. 

?. “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Bryne and Eno,” Playboy Guide to Electronic Enter- 
tainment 1 (Fall/Winter 1981), 17. 

Poirier, Richard. “Learning from the Beatles,” Partisan Review 34 (1967), 526-46. Through a 
thorough analysis of the lyrics of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Poir- 
ier argues that the music of the Beatles can indeed be appreciated through conven- 
tional aesthetic categories. 

Pollock, Bruce. In Their Own Words: Lyrics and Lyricists 1955-1974. New York and London: 
Macmillan, 1975. 231 pp. Paul Taylor writes: “The work of the leading songwriters 
from the whole spectrum of popular music is discussed and analyzed with profuse, 
well-selected examples. There are quotations from interviews with most of the writ- 
ers with some fascinating insights into their methods of working and inspirations, as 
well as outlines of their careers.” 

Rambali, Paul. “Brain Waves from Eno: Too Smart for Rock’n’Roll, Too Weird for Anything 
Else,” Trouser Press 4 (June/July 1977), 15-19. 

Randel, Don, ed. The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, Mass, and London: 

Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1986. “Electro-acoustic music” (John Appleton), 
“Improvisation, extemporization” (Bruno Nettl), “Synthesizer” (Dimitri Conomos). 

?. “Review: Another Green World,” Records and Recording (Feb. 1976), 67. 

Rees, Dafydd, and Barry Lazell. Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music.” London & New York: Pro- 
teus, 1982. 96 pp. 

Robbins, Ira. The Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records. New York: Scribner’s, 1983. 
389 pp. 

Robins, Wayne. “Records: Taking Rock’s Future by Artifice: Roxy Music, Country Life; Eno, 
Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy),” Creem 6 (Mar. 1975), 66-7. 

Robinson, Lisa. “Eno’s Last Interview,” New Musical Express (10 Aug. 1974), 5-6. 

Rock, Sheila. “Brian Eno,” Rock (Nov. 1976), 92-3. 

Rockwell, John. All American Music: Composition in the Late 20th Century. New York: 

Knopf, 1983. 287 pp. Rockwell’s unusually broad view and perceptive insights are 
refreshing. There aren’t many books where one can find Milton Babbitt and Neil 
Young treated on an equal footing. 

. “Art Rock,” in Jim Miller, ed.. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. 

New York: Rolling Stone/Random House, 1976, pp. 322-6. Rockwell’s aim is to 


187 



trace manifestations of “self-conscious experimentation in rock.” Discusses and 
critically evaluates all the major figures of progressive rock in probably the best ex- 
isting general treatment of the subject. 

. “The Odyssey of Two British Rockers,” New York Times (23 July 1978), 11:16. On 

Eno and Robert Fripp. 

Rogan, Johnny. Roxy Music: Style with Substance - Roxy’s first ten years. London: Star, 

1982. 219 pp. Paul Taylor has written: “A very good study of the group’s career not 
forgetting the solo efforts of all the members. There are lengthy quotes from the mu- 
sic press with an unusual section of notes on sources ... The author’s knowledge of 
Roxy Music’s development in terms of artistic presentation as well as musical style 
is evident, making this stand above the usual group history.” 

?. “The Heavy Hundred 1980: Rolling Stone” Picks the Movers and the Shakers of the Music 
Industry, Rolling Stone 312 (6 March 1980), 9-17. 

Rose, Frank. “Eno: Scaramouche of the Synthesizer,” Creem 7 (July 1975), 30 ff. 

. “Four Conversations with Brian Eno,” Village Voice 22 (28 Mar. 1977), 69 ff. 

Ross, David. “Brian Eno,” Matrix/Berkeley 44 (June/July 1981), n.p. 

Rush, George. “Brian Eno: Rock’s Svengali Pursues Silence,” Esquire 98 (Dec. 1982), 130-2. 

Russel, Tony, ed. Encyclopedia of Rock. London: Crescent Books, 1983. 192 pp. 

Sagan, Carl. The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Rise of Human Intelligence” New 
York: Random House, 1977. 263 pp. 

Salewicz, Chris. “Texans Like Steak, Oil-Wells, Large Hats and Eno,” New Musical Express 
(7 Dec. 1974), 42-3. 

Salzman, Eric. Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction. Prentice-Hall History of Music 

Series, H. Wiley Hitchcock, ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1974. 242 pp. 
One of the standard texts. 

Sandner, Wolfgang. “Frankfurt am Main: John McLaughlin und ‘Roxy Music’ erstmals in 
Deutschland,” Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik 134:8 (1973), 523. 

Schafer, William. Rock Music: Where It’s Been, What It Means, Where It’s Going. Minnea- 
polis: Augsburg, 1972. 128 pp. Hails new movements in rock as manifesting a clear 
“artistic intent.” Cf. especially the chapter on “Concepts and ‘Concept Albums,”’ 
which refers to Cage, Ives, Riley, et. al. 

Schaeffer, Pierre. Traite des objets musicaux. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1968. 671 pp. 

Schneider, Mitchell. “Brave New Eno: Before and After Science,” Crawdaddy 84 (May 
1978), 64. 

Schumacher, Ernst. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. New York: Harper 
& Row, 1975. 290 pp. 

Shaw, Russell. “Record Reviews: Before and After Science,” Down Beat 45 (13 July 1978), 
36. 

Shepherd, John. “A Theoretical Model for the Sociomusicological Analysis of Popular Mu- 
sic,” Popular Music 2 (1982), 145-77. Extremely thought-provoking plea for analyti- 
cal methods appropriate to the specific musical object. Shepherd’s controversial ap- 
proach sees an analogy between the dominating force of tonality in traditional art 
music and the vertical power-structures of industrial capitalism, whereas many forms 
of popular music are said to be more “horizontal” in structure and function. 

Shepherd, John, Phil Virden, Graham Vulliamy, and Trevor Wishart. Whose Music? A Sociol- 
ogy of Musical Languages. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1980. 
300 pp. Consists of individual chapters by one or more of the above authors, a fine 
bibliography heavy on theoretical aspects of the arts in society, and a twenty-nine- 
page Appendix of Musical Terminology (for the naive sociologist). All in all, an im- 
posing effort whose rather fierce Marxist polemical aim is “to provide a re- 
evaluation of deep-seated assumptions underlying attitudes to music,” leading to 
(among other things) “a serious reconsideration by university music departments of 


188 



the value of all kinds of music (including present-day ‘popular’ forms), instead of 
their acting merely as a forum for so-called ‘art’ musics.” 

Shore, Michael. ‘‘The Arts: Music,” Omni 3 (June 1980), 26-7. Omni’s characteristic techno- 
yuppie breathlessness is in full swing in this sweeping historical account of the crea- 
tive use of synthesizers and studio effects in rock and related genres. Includes a brief 
mention of Eno’s contributions, concluding: “Eno showed us how to live with and 

love electronics and how to use them expressively, with felicity and taste.” 

Simels, Steve. “The Sixties Revisited: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Byrne & Eno, The 
Flowers of Romance by Public Image Ltd.,” Stereo Review 46 (Aug. 1981), 86. 

Slawson, Wayne. Sound Color. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California 
Press, 1985. 266 pp. Slawson, “motivated by the assumption that composition with 
sound color requires a theory,” examines and criticizes the major existing studies of 
timbre: Pierre Schaeffer’s Traite des objets musicaux, Robert Erickson’s Sound 
Structure in Music, and Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot’s Sonic Design: The Nature 
of Sound and Music (see the entries in this bibliography for more information). 
Slawson includes an eighteen-page bibliography on his subject. Slawson’s own con- 
cept of “sound color,” which is exceedingly well thought-out and formally precise, is 
not really concerned with “timbre” as such, which is a more general term encom- 
passing such sound-characteristics as attack and decay, vibrato, and periodic and ape- 
riodic fluctuations in pitch and amplitude, as well as the harmonic or overtone struc- 
ture of sounds. Although tempted to broaden Slawson’s evocative term “sound color” 
for the purposes of this book, I have usually stuck with the traditional terms “timbre” 
and “tone color,” which 1 have used more or less interchangeably, relying on their 
accustomed if inexact connotations to carry the argument. 

Smith, Rod. “What is Spacemusic!,” FM 91 Public Radio (California State University, Sacra- 
mento, Feb. 1987), 5 ff. 

?. “Review: Flere Come the Warm Jets,” Stereo Review (Dec. 1974), 102-3. Stone, Ruth. 
“From the Editors: Flijacking Music,” SEM Newsletter 21 (Jan. 1987), 2. 

Strieben, Joachim. “Brian Eno - ein Avantgardist der Rockmusik,” Musik und Bildung 11 
(Mar. 1979), 190-1. 

Sutherland, Sam. “Reviews: The Catherine Wheel, David Byrne,” High Fidelity 32 (Feb. 

1982), 75. Review of Byrne’s score for Twyla Tharp’s Broadway dance production, 
Eno is credited with instrumental support on three tracks, but “exerted a wider influ- 
ence than those listings might suggest.” 

Tagg, Philip. “Analysing Popular Music: Theory, Method and Practice,” 2 Popular Music 

(1982), 37-67. Excellent discussion of the problems confronting the would-be ana- 
lyst. Stresses the importance of locating significant non-musical association- 
producing elements in the analytical object. Several well-thought-out charts, includ- 
ing a comparison of folk, art, and popular music, a chart of the analytical process, 
and a checklist of parameters of musical expression. 

Tamm, Eric. “Materials for Rock Music Research,” Cum Notis Variorum 90-93 (March-June 
1985). Categorized bibliography of available sources. 

Tannenbaum, Rob. “A Meeting of Sound Minds: John Cage and Brian Eno,” Musician 83 
(Sept. 1985), 64-70, 72, 106. 

Taylor, Paul. Popular Music Since 1955: A Critical Guide to the Literature. Boston: GK. Flail, 
1985.533 pp. 

Tazzi, Pier Luigi. “Milan: Brian Eno, Chiesa di S. Carpoforo,” Artforum 23 (Feb. 1985), 97-8. 

Trungpa, Chogyam. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Edited by John Baker and Marvin 
Casper. Berkeley: Shambhala, 1973. 250 pp. 

Tudor, Dean. Popular Music: An Annotated Guide to Recordings. Littleton, Colorado: Librar- 
ies Unlimited, 1983. 647 pp. 

Turner, Anna and Stephen Hill, eds. Spacemusic: Music by Mail, 1986. San Francisco: Hearts 
of Space, 1986. 97 pp. 


189 



Waddington, Conrad. Towards a Theoretical Biology. An International Union of Biological 
Sciences Symposium. Chicago: Aldine, 1968. 4 vv. 

Wahlstrom, Billie and Caren Deming. “Chasing the Popular Arts through the Critical Forest,” 
Journal of Popular Culture 13 (1980), 412-26. Concentrates on myth and archetype 
as carriers of cultural values. 

Walsh, Michael. “The Heart Is Back in the Game: Hypnotic and Infectious, Minimalism is 
Emotional in its Appeal,” Time 120 (20 Sept. 1982), 60-2. Survey of the impact of 
the music of Reich, Riley, Glass, et. al. on the contemporary audience. Eno is men- 
tioned as an Art-Rocker “whose own music has been influenced by the minimalist 
aesthetic.” 

Walters, Charley. “Records: Eno’s Electronic Sonic Exotica: Another Green World,” Rolling 
Stone 212 (6 May 1976), 67-8. 

Ward, Ed. “Riffs: Meetings with Remarkable Men,” Village Voice 24 (17 Sept. 1979), 65. Un- 
abstractable piece in which Ward professes to be in touch with an all-seeing guru 
(Stravinsky’s ghost) whose wisdom he hopes will give him the straight dope on 
Eno’s music. “He loves sound and he will play with it forever, and if he composes di- 
rectly onto tape 

then yes, he is a musician,” is the Russian’s final word. 

Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of 
Rock & Roll. New York: Rolling Stone/Summit, 1986. 

Wenner, Jann. Lennon Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interviews. San Francisco: Straight 
Arrow Books, 1971. 189 pp. 

Whitmont, Edward. Return of the Goddess. New York: Crossroad, 1984. 272 pp. 

Wicke, Peter. “Rock Music: A Musical-Aesthetic Study,” Popular Music 2 (1982), 219-43. An 
extremely involved study from a socialist point of view that finds the “aesthetics” of 
rock primarily in the audience’s experience of sensory-motor response. Includes an 
extraordinary bibliography of predominantly German sources. 

Wicke, Peter, and Gunter Mayer. “Rock Music as a Phenomenon of Progressive Mass Cul- 
ture,” Popular Music Perspectives: Papers from the First International Conference on 
Popular Music Research, Amsterdam, June 1981. Goeteborg and Exeter: Interna- 
tional Association for the Study of Popular Music, 1982, pp. 223-42. 

Williams, Richard. “Roxy Music,” Melody Maker 47 (29 July, 1972), 14-5. 

. “Crimso Meets Eno!,” Melody Maker 47 (4 Nov. 1972), 9 ff. 

. “Roxy Split,” Melody Maker 48 (28 July 1973), 3 ff. 

Willis, Paul. Profane Culture. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978. 212 pp. 
The annotation in the “Booklist” in Popular Music 1 reads: “Excellent, thoughtful 
account of the homologies between the music and the lifestyle of different youth cul- 
tures.” 

Wilson, Oily. “Black Music as an Art Form.” Black Music Research Journal (1983), 1-22. 

Wilson tackles the topic elegantly and systematically, defining black music concisely 
in musical as well as racial terms, summarizing formalist and expressionist defini- 
tions of art, and outlining a distinction between art and entertainment. He then ana- 
lyzes in detail two examples of Afro-American music as art, the work song “Katie 
Left Memphis,” and Miles Davis’ recording of “On Green Dolphin Street.” The for- 
mer represents “basic” or “folk” art, the latter a tradition in which “the music exists 
clearly as an object of ‘intrinsic perceptual interest’ and thus is compatible with west- 
ern concepts of art.” 

Wimsatt, W.K., and M.C. Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy,” Sewanee Review 54 (1946), 
468-88. 

Winkler, Peter. “The Harmonic Language of Rock,” unpublished paper first delivered to the 

Keele University/Sonneck Society conference on American and British music, Keele, 
England, July 5, 1983. In an lucid presentation including many examples and voice- 
leading graphs, Winkler argued that “though its roots are in simple diatonic relation- 


190 



ships, the harmonic language of rock has the potential to transcend the limits of tri- 
adic structure and tonality that governed earlier popular music.” 

. “Toward a Theory of Popular Harmony,” In Theory Only: Journal of the Michigan 

Music Theory Society 4 (1978), 3-26. Deals, through voice-leading principles, with 
the harmonic syntax of popular music, 
particularly jazz. 

Wolcott, James. “Records: Nearer My Eno to Thee: Another Green World, Discreet Music,” 
Creem 7 (Apr. 1976), 60. 

Zalkind, Ronald. Contemporary Music Almanac, 1980/81. New York: Schirmer, 
London: Collier Macmillan, 1980. 944 pp. 

Zelinka, Tom. “Eno interview,” Australian Broadcasting Commission, Radio Station JJJ, 
1977. Quoted extensively in Eno and Mills, More Dark than Shark. 

?. “Review: Here Come the Warm Jets,” Zoo World (23 May 1974), 37. 

Zwerin, Michael. “Brian Eno: Music Existing in Space,” International Herald Tribune (14 
Sept. 1983), 7. 


191 



ENO DISCOGRAPHY 


This discography is based on Eno’s own list of his works to 1986. (See Brian Eno and Russell 
Mills, “Biographical Notes,” More Dark Than Shark [London: Faber and Faber, 1986], 138- 
9.) I have reorganized and amplified it, added identifying record, cassette, or CD numbers, 
and omitted the sections of “selected commissions to score music,” “selected uses of Music 
For Films,” “video works,” and “audio-visual installations.” Recordings within each section 
are listed chronologically. The information under each listing is taken from the recordings 
themselves, and occasionally from other sources. 


Solo Progressive Rock Albums 

Eno, Brian. Here Come the Warm Jets. Editions EG ENO 1, 1973. 

Produced by Brian Eno 

Keyboards: Nick Kool and the Koolaids, Nick Judd, Andy Mackay. 

Guitars: Robert Fripp, Phil Manzanera, Paul Rudolph, Chris “Ace” 

Spedding Bass Guitars: Busta Cherry Jones, Bill MacCormick, Paul Rudolph, John 
Wetton, Chris Thomas 

Percussion: Simon King, Marty Simon, Paul Thompson 
Saxophone septet: Andy Mackay 
Slide Guitars: Lloyd Watson 
Backing vocals: Sweetfeed 

“Eno sings all other vocals and (occasionally) plays simplistic keyboards, snake gui- 
tar, electric larynx and synthesizer, and treats the other instruments.” 
Authors: Eno, Eno/Manzanera, Eno/Fripp, and Eno (arr. Thompson/Jones/Judd/Eno). 
Eno, Brian. Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy’). Editions EG ENO 2, 

1974. 

Produced by Brian Eno. 

Eno: vocals, electronics, snake guitar, keyboards 
Phil Manzanera: guitars 
Brian Turrington: bass guitar 
Freddie Smith: drums 

Robert Wyatt: percussion and backing vocals 
“Special Guests”: 

The Portsmouth Sinfonia: strings 
The Simplistics: chorus 
Andy Mackay: brass 
Phil Collins: drums 
Polly Eltes: vocals 

Authors: Eno, Eno (arr. Turrington), Eno/Manzanera. 

Eno, Brian. Another Green World. Editions EG ENO 3, 1975. 

Produced by Brian Eno and Rhett Davies. 

Phil Collins: drums, percussion 
Percy Jones: fretless bass 

Paul Rudolph: bass, snare drums, “assistant castanet guitars,” guitar 
Rod Melvin: Rhodes piano, piano 
John Cale: viola 


192 



Brian Eno: synthesizer, guitar, tape, organ, piano, Yamaha bass pedals, synthetic per- 
cussion, guitars, digital guitar, treated rhythm generator, farfisa organ, 
Hammond organ, Peruvian percussion, “electric elements and unnatural 
sounds,” prepared piano, Leslie piano 

Robert Fripp: “Wimshurst guitar,” “restrained lead guitar,” “Wimborne guitar” 

Brian Turrington: bass guitar, pianos 
All compositions by Brian Eno. 

Eno, Brian. Before and After Science: Fourteen Pictures. Editions EG ENO 4, 1977. 

Produced by Brian Eno and Rhett Davies. 

Paul Rudolph: bass and rhythm guitar 
Phil Collins: drums 

Percy Jones: fretless bass, analog delay bass 
Rhett Davies: agaong-gong and stick 

Brian Eno: voices, synthesizer, guitar, synthesizer percussion, piano, chorus, metal- 
lies, bell, mini-moog, CS80, AKS, piano 
Jaki Liebezeit: drams 
Dave Mattacks: drams 
Shirley Williams: brash timbales 
Kurt Schwitters: voice 
Fred Frith: guitar 
Andy Fraser: drams 
Phil Manzanera: guitar 
Robert Fripp: guitar 

Achim Roedelius: grand and electric pianos 
Mvbi Moebius: Bass Fender piano 
Brian Turrington: bass 

Authors: Eno, Eno (arr. Jones/Eno), Eno/Roedelius/Moebius, Eno (arr. Frith/Eno) 
Eno, Brian. Rarities. Editions EG ENOX 1, 1983. (EP released only in ten-album boxed set 
Working Backwards 1983-1973, Editions EG EGBS 2, 1983.) 

Produced by Brian Eno and Rhett Davies. 

Authors: Brian Eno, Linda/Campbell-Peretti/Creatore/Weiss/Stanton, Brian 
Eno/Daniel Lanois/Roger Eno 

Eno, Brian. More Blank Than Frank: Songs from the Period 1973-1977. EG EGLP 65, 1986. 
Not exactly a “greatest hits” collection, this is a selection of Eno ’s progressive rock 
songs he chose to include in a record that tied in with the release of the book More 
Dark Than Shark (see full listing under Eno in “Materials by and About Eno” be- 
low). 


Solo Ambient Albums 

Eno, Brian. Discreet Music. Editions EG/Obscure EGS 303, 1975. 

Produced by Brian Eno. 

Side One: “Discreet Music,” “recorded [and performed, by Eno himself] at Brian 
Eno’s studio 9.5.75.” 

Side Two: Three Variations of the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel, “per- 
formed by the Cockpit Ensemble conducted by Gavin Bryars (who also 
helped arrange the pieces).” 

Eno, Brian. Music for Films. Editions EG EGS 105, 1978. 

Produced by Brian Eno. 

Percy Jones: bass guitar 
Phil Collins: percussion 


193 



Paul Rudolph: guitar 

Bill MacCormick: bass guitar 

Dave Mattacks: percussion 

Fred Frith: electric guitar 

Robert Fripp: electric guitar 

John Cale: viola 

Rod Melvin: electric piano 

Rhett Davies: trumpet 

All other instalments by Eno 

All compositions by Brian Eno. 

Eno, Brian. Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Editions EG EGS 201, 1979. 

Produced by Brian Eno. 

Voices: Christa Fast, Christine Gomez and Inge Zeininger 
Eno: synthesizer and other instalments 

“All compositions by Brian Eno except 1/1 which was co-composed with Robert 
Wyatt (who also played acoustic piano on this track) and Rhett Davies.” 
Eno, Brian. Ambient 4: On Land. Editions EG EGED 20, 1982. 

Produced by Brian Eno. 

Michael Beinhorn: synthesizer 
Axel Gros: guitar 
Bill Laswell: bass 
Jon Hassell: taimpet 
Michael Brook: guitar 
Dan Lanois: live equalization 

“All compositions by Brian Eno except ‘Lizard Point’ by Eno, Beinhorn, Gros and 
Laswell.” 

Eno, Brian. Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks. Editions EG, ENO 5, 1983. 

Produced by Brian Eno and Dan Lanois. 

Composed and played by Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Roger Eno. 

Eno, Brian. Music for Films, Vol. II. Editions EG EGSP-2, 1983. 

Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. 

Composers: Eno, Eno/Lanois, Lanois (arr. Eno), Eno/Roger Eno, Eno/Roger 
Eno/Lanois 

Eno, Brian. Thursday Afternoon. EG EGCD 64, 1985. (Compact disc only.) 

Origination team: Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Roger Eno 
Mix team: Brian Eno, Michael Brook, Daniel Lanois 
Assembly team: Brian Eno, Michael Brook 

Eno, Brian. Glint (East ofWoodbridge). Artfoaim International Magazine, Inc. Evatone 

Soundsheets 861222XS, 1986. Tear-out disc included as part of Ar forum 24 (Sum- 
mer 1986). 


Rock Collaborations 

With Roxy Music 

Roxy Music. The First Roxy Music Album. Atco SD 36-133, 1972. Eno: synthesizer and tapes. 
Roxy Music. For Your Pleasure. Atco SD 36-134, 1973. Eno: synthesizer and tapes. 

With David Bowie 

Bowie, David. Low. RCA AYL1-3856, 1977. Eno: co-authorship of one piece; general studio 
collaboration. 


194 



Bowie, David. Heroes. RCAAYL1-3857, 1977. Eno: synthesizers, keyboards, guitar treat- 
ments, co-authorship of four pieces. 

Bowie, David. Lodger. RCA AYL1-4234, 1979. Eno: ambient drone, prepared piano and 

cricket menace, synthesizers, guitar treatments, horse trumpets, Eroica horn, piano, 
co-authorship of six pieces. 

German Synthesizer Rock 

Cluster and Eno. Cluster and Eno. Sky 010, 1977. Eno: instillments, co-authorship. 

Eno, Moebius and Rodelius. After the Heat. Sky 021, 1978. Eno: instruments, lyrics, co- 
authorship of music, co-production. 

With Talking Heads and David Byrne 

Talking Heads. More Songs about Buildings and Food. Sire SIR M5 6058 (cassette), 1978. 
Eno: co-production with Talking Heads. 

Talking Heads. Fear of Music. Sire SIR M5S 6076 (cassette), 1979. Eno: co-production with 
Talking Heads. 

Talking Heads. Remain in Light. Sire SIR M5S 6095, 1980. Eno: bass, keyboards, percussion, 
voices, vocal arrangements, co-authorship of all music and some words, production. 

Eno, Brian, and David Byrne. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Sire M5S 6093 (cassette), 1981. 
Eno: guitars, basses, synthesizers, drams, percussion, and found objects, co- 
production with Byrne, co-authorship with Byrne. 

Byrne, David. “ The Catherine Wheel. ” Songs from the broadway production choreographed 
and directed by Twyla Tharp. Sire SRK 3645, 1981. Eno: bass, “prophet scream,” 
vibes. 

Other Rock Collaborations 

Matching Mole. Matching Mole’s Little Red Record. CBS S 65260, 1972. Eno: synthesizer. 

Ayers, Kevin, John Cale, Brian Eno, Nico. June 1, 1974. Island, 1974. Eno: synthe- 
sizer, vocal. 

Calvert, Robert. Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters. United Artists, 1974. 

Genesis. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Atco SD 2-401, 1974. Eno: “Enossification.” 

Lady June. Lady June’s Linguistic Leprosy. Caroline, 1974. 

Nico. The End. Island 1LPS 9311, 1974. Eno: synthesizer. 

Cale, John. Slow Dazzle. Island ILPS 9317, 1975. Eno: synthesizer. 

. Helen of Troy. Island, 1975. Calvert, Robert. Lucky’ Lief and the Longships. United 

Artists, 1975. 

Manzanera, Phil. Diamond Head. EG, 1975. 

Quiet Sun. Mainstream. Editions EG, 1975. 

Wyatt, Robert. Ruth Is Stranger than Richard. Virgin, 1975. 

801. 801 Live. Polydor/EG Pd-1-6148, 1976. Eno: vocals, synthesizer, guitar, tapes, author- 
ship of three pieces, co-authorship of one piece. 

Camel. Rain Dances. Passport PB 9858, 1977. Eno: Mini Moog, electric and acoustic piano, 
random notes, bells. 

Manzanera, Phil. 801. Polydor/EG PD-1-6147, 1977. Eno: “musician.” 

Fripp, Robert. Exposure. EG EGLP 41, 1979. Eno: synthesizer, advice. 

Material. One Down. Elektra 60206, 1982. Eno: co-authorship of one piece. 

Cale, John. Caribbean Sunset. Island/Ze IT 8401, 1984. Eno: A.M.S. pitch changer. 


195 



Ambient Collaborations 


With Robert Fripp 

Fripp, Robert, and Brian Eno. No Pussyfooting. Editions EG EGS 102, 1973. Eno: tapes and 
synthesizer, co-production, co-authorship. 

Fripp, Robert, and Brian Eno. Evening Star. Editions EG EGS 103, 1975. Eno: loops and syn- 
thesizer, co-production, co-authorship. 

Other Ambient Collaborations 

Laraaji. Ambient #3: Day of Radiance. Editions EG EGS 203, 1980. Eno: production. 

Budd, Flarold, and Brian Eno. Ambient #2: The Plateaux of Mirror. Editions EG EGS 202, 
1980. Eno: instruments and treatments, co-authorship, production. 

Flassell, Jon, and Brian Eno. Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics. Editions EG EGS 107, 

1980. Eno: Prophet 5 (synthesizer) “‘starlight’ background,” “high altitude Prophet,” 
“rare Minimoog” (synthesizer), treatments, co-authorship, co-production with Jon 
Hassell. 

Hassell, John. Dream Theory’ in Malaya: Fourth World Vol. 2. Editions EG EGM 114, 1981. 
Eno: drums, bowl gongs, bells, mixing. 

Budd, Harold, and Brian Eno, with Daniel Lanois. The Pearl. Editions EG EGED 37, 1984. 
Eno: co-authorship with Budd, co-production with Lanois. 

Brook, Michael, with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Hybrid. Editions EG, 1985. Eno, Roger, 
with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Voices. Editions EG EGED 42, 1985. Eno: treat- 
ments. 


Rock Productions 

Gale, John. Fear. Island 1LPS 9301, 1974. Eno: Eno [.sic], executive co-production. 

Ultravox. Ultravox! Island ILPS 9449, 1977. Eno: production. 

Devo. Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! Warner Brothers BSK 3239, 1978. Eno: produc- 
tion. 

Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, and DNA. No New York. Antilles, 1978. 
Edikanfo. The Pace Setters. Editions EG, 1981. 

U2. The Unforgettable Fire. Island 90231-4 (cassette), 1984. Eno: background vocals, instru- 
ments, treatments, co-production and co-engineering. 

. The Joshua Tree. Island 7 90581-1, 1987. Eno: co-production. 


The Obscure Label 

Note: Simon Emmerson, “Seven Obscure Releases,” Music and Musicians 25 (Jan. 1977), 20- 
2, documents, discusses, and critiques Obscure’s contribution to the development of 
British experimental music. 

Bryars, Gavin. The Sinking of the Titanic. Obscure/EG OBS 1, 1975. Eno: production. 

Hobbs, Christopher, John Adams, and Gavin Bryars. Ensemble Pieces. Obscure/Editions EG 
OBS 2, 1975. Eno: vocals, production. 

Eno, Brian. Discreet Music. Editions EG EGS 303, 1975. (See above under “Solo Progressive 
Rock Albums.”) 

Toop, David, and Max Eastley. New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments. Obscure/Editions 
EG OBS 4, 1975. Eno: production. 


196 



Steele, Jan, and John Cage. Voices and Instruments. Obscure/Editions EG OBS 5, 1976. Eno: 
production. 

Nyman, Michael. Decay Music. Obscure/Editions EG OBS 6, 1976. Eno: production. 

Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Music from the Penguin Cafe. Obscure/Editions EG Obscure 7, 
1976. Eno: executive production. 

White, John, and Gavin Bryars. Machine Music. Obscure/Editions EG OBS 8, 1978. Eno: 
bottle, electric guitars, production. 

Phillips, Tom, Gavin Bryars, and Fred Orton. Irma- An Opera. Obscure/Editions EG OBS 9, 
1978. Eno: production. 

Budd, Harold. The Pavillion of Dreams. Obscure/Editions EG EGS 301, 1978. Eno: voices, 
production. 


Other 

Cardew, Cornelius. The Great Learning. The Scratch Orchestra. Eno: voice. Deutsche Gram- 
mophonDGG 2538216, 1971. 

Portsmouth Sinfonia. Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics. Transatlantic, 1973. 
Eno: production. 

Portsmouth Sinfonia. Hallelujah. Transatlantic, 1974. Eno: production. 

Peter and the Wolf (various artists). RSO, 1975. 

Jubilee fdm soundtrack (various artists). EG, 1978. 

Sheckley, Robert. In a Land of Clear Colors. Limited edition of 1000 copies with book. Gale- 
ria el Mensajero, Ibiza, 1979. 

Dune film soundtrack (various artists). Polydor 823 770-1 Y-l, 1984. Eno: production, 
“Prophecy Theme.”de Sio, Theresa. Africana. Polydor, 1985. 


197 



OTHER MUSIC CITED 


Listed here are LPs, singles, and compositions referred to in the text, alphabetically by com- 
poser, performer, or title, whichever is most pertinent. Neither the records nor the scores listed 
here are necessarily the first editions, but the date of first publication, or in some cases the 
date of composition, is given where appropriate. 

Actual Voices of Ex-Slaves. 

Anthony, Ray. “Peter Gunn." Capitol 4041, 1959. 

Beach Boys. Pet Sounds. Reprise 2MS 2083, 1966. 

. “Surf’s Up.” 

Beatles. Abbey Road. Apple PCS 7088, 1969. 

. The Beatles. Apple PCS 7067/8, 1968. 

. “Dr. Robert,” from Revolver. 

. “Eleanor Rigby,” from Revolver. 

. Help! Parlophone PCS 3071, 1965. 

. “Let It Be,” from Let It Be. Apple PXS 1, 1970. 

. Magical Mystery Tour. Capitol SMAL 2835, 1967. 

. “Nowhere Man,” from Rubber Soul. 

. Revolver. Parlophone PCS 7009, 1966. 

. Rubber Soul. Parlophone PCS 3075, 1965. 

. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Parlophone PCS 7027, 1967. 

. “Within You Without You,” from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. 

Beethoven, Ludwig van. Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Ludwig van Beethoven: Fourth 
and Fifth Symphonies in Full Orchestral Score. New York: Dover, 1976. (Completed 
1808.) 

Beethoven, Ludwig van. Symphony No. 9 in D minor. Ludwig van Beethoven: Eighth and 
Ninths Symphonies in Full Orchestral Score. New York: Dover, 1976. (Completed 
1824.) 

Berg, Alban. George Buchners Wozzeck: Oper in 3 Akten, Op. 7. Klavierauszug von Fritz 
Heinrich Klein. Wien: Universal Edition, 1926. (Composed 1917-21.) 

Brown, Arthur. “Fire.” Atlantic 2556, 1968. 

Cage, John. 45 ’ for a Speaker, in his Silence (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University 
Press, 1976), 146-93. (Composed 1954.) 

. 4’33”. 1954. 

Carlos, Walter. Switched-on Bach. Columbia Masterworks MS 7194, 1968. 

Coleman, Ornette. Skies of America. 

Davis, Miles. “In a Silent Way.” 

Debussy, Claude. “Pagodes,” from Estampes, in Claude Debussy: Piano Music 1888-1905. 

2nd ed., corrected by Beveridge Webster. New York: Dover, 1973. (Composed 1903.) 
Deuter. Nirvana Road. Kuckkuck 068, 1984. 

Diddley, Bo. “Who Do You Love.” 

Don and Juan. “Chicken Necks.” 

Dylan, Bob. Blonde on Blonde. 1966. 

. Bringing It All Back Home. 1965. 

. Highway 61 Revisited. Columbia 9189, 1965. 

. Infidels. Columbia AL 38819, 1983. 

. “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” Columbia 43592, 1966. 

. “The Wicked Messenger,” from John Wesley Harding. Columbia 9604, 1968. 

Fast, Larry. Synergy: Computer Experiments, Vol. 1. Audion SYN 104, 1980. 


198 



Fripp, Robert. God Save the Queen. Polydor MPF 1298, 1980. 

. Let The Power Fall: An Album of Frippertronics. Editions EG EGS 110, 1981. 

Fripp, Robert. Exposure. EG EGLP 41, 1978. 

Gentle Giant. Octopus. CBS KC 32022, 1973. 

Glass, Philip. Songs from Liquid Days. CBS FM 39564, 1986. 

Flandel, Fr. “Flallelujah Chorus” from The Messiah. Ed. by T. Teritus Noble. Rev. according 
to Flanders original score by Max Spicker. Vocal score. New York: G. Schirmer, 
1912.(1741.) 

Flaydn, Franz. String Quartets. Collection de quatours pour 2 violons, viola et violoncelle. Ed. 

nouv., revue et corrigee critiquement. Leipzig: C.F. Peters, 191?. 

Flendrix, Jimi. “Fley Joe,” from Are You Experienced. Warner/Reprise RS 6261, 1967. 

. “Little Wing,” from Axis: Bold As Love. Warner/Reprise 6281, 1968. 

. “The Star-Spangled Banner,” from Woodstock (various artists). Cotillion SD 3-500, 

1970. 

Horn, Paul. Inside [the Taj Mahal]. Epic 26466, 1968. 

The Human Voice in the World of Islam. Tangent TGS 131. 

Hykes, David. Hearing Solar Winds. Harmonia Mundi HM 558 607, 1980. 

King Crimson. Discipline. 1981. Warner/EG BSK 3629, 1981. 

. Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. Editions EG EGKC 6, 1973. 

. Red. Editions EG EGKC 8, 1974. 

Kinks. “Well Respected Man.” Reprise 0420, 1966. 

Kitaro. Silk Road I & II. Gramavision 18-7019-1, 1986. 

Liszt, Franz. Totentanz (Danse macabre), Paraphrase iiber Dies Irae fur Piano und Orchester. 

Leipzig: C.F.W. Siegel, 1865. (Composed 1950.) 

“Little Puppy.” 

Les Liturgies de T Orient. 

“Living with a Hernia.” 

Murphy, Walter, and the Big Apple Band. “AFifth of Beethoven.” Private Stock 45073, 1976. 
Music of Bulgaria. Nonesuch H 72011, 1966. 

Oldfield, Mike. Tubular Bells. Virgin V2001, 1973. 

Oliveros, Pauline. Sonic Meditations. Baltimore, Md.: Smith Publications, 1974. 

Pachelbel, Johann. Kanon fur 3 Violinen und Bass. Continuo-aussetzung von Caspar Di- 
ethelm. Winterthur: Amadeus, B. Paulen, 1980. Parliament. The Clones of Dr. 
Funkenstein. 

Pickett, Bobby “Boris” and the Crypt-Kickers. “Monster Mash.” Garpax 44167, 1962. 

Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon. Capitol SMAS 11163, 1973. 

Les Plus Grandes Artistes du Monde Arabe. EMI. 

Pousseur, Henri. Exercises pour Piano: Impromptu et Variations, 2. Milano: Edizioni Suivi 
Zerboni, 1959. 

Presley, Elvis. “Heartbreak Hotel.” RCA 6420, 1956. 

Procol Hamm. “Whiter Shade of Pale.” Deram 7507, 1967. 

Reed, Lou. “Walk on the Wild Side,” from Transformer. RCA LSP 4807, 1972. 

Reich, Steve. Four Organs. Capitol/ Angel S-36059, 1973. (Composed 1970.) 

. It’s Gonna Rain. 

. Music for a Large Ensemble. Warner Brothers ECM-1-1168, 1980. (Composed 

1978.) 

. Tehillim. Warner Brothers ECM-1-1215, 1982. 

. Violin Phase. Warner Brothers ECM-1-1168, 1980. (Composed 1967.) 

Rifkin, Joshua. The Baroque Beatles Book. 

Riley, Terry. In C. Columbia MS 7178, 1968. 

. A Rainbow in Curved Air, Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band. Columbia MS 

7315, 1969. 

Rios, Miguel. “A Song of Joy.” A&M 1193, 1970. 


199 



Rivers, Johnny. “Secret Agent Man.” Imperial 66159, 1966. 

Roach, Steve. Structures from Silence. Fortuna FOR-LP024, 1984. 

Roches. The Roches. Warner Brothers BSK 3298, 1979. 

Rolling Stones. Beggar’s Banquet. London 75391/PS 539, 1968. 

. “Mother’s Little Helper.” London 902, 1966. 

. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” London 9766, 1965. 

. Their Satanic Majesties Request. London 80021/NPS-2, 1967. 

Satie, Erik. En Habit de Cheval. Paris: Rouart, Lerolle, 1911. 

. Le Fils des Etoiles. Paris: Rouart, Lerolle, 1951. 

. Morceaux en Forme de Poire. Paris: Rouart, Lerolle, 1911. 

. Vexations. 

Schoenberg, Arnold. 15 Gedichte aus Das Buch der hangende Garten von Stephan George, 
Op. 15. Wien: Universal Edition, 1952. (Composed 1908.) 

. Fiinf Orchesterstiicke, Op. 16. Leipzig: C.F. Peters, 1912. (Composed 1909.) 

. Dreimal seiben Gedichte aus Albert Girauds Pierrot lunaire. Op. 21. Wien: Universal 

Edition, 1941. (Composed 1912.) 

Silhouettes. “Get A Job.” Ember 1029, 1958. 

Simon and Garfunkel. “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Columbia 45079, 1970. 

Sly and the Family Stone. “Everyday People.” Epic 10407, 1969. 

. “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again.)” Epic 10555, 1970. 

Smith, Patti. “Gloria,” from Horses. Arista AL5-8158, 1975. 

Stockhausen, Karlheinz. Aus den Siben Tagen: Kompositionen Mai 1968. Wien: Universal 
Edition, 1968. 

. Gesang der Junglinge. Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, SLPM 13881, 1963. 

(Composed 1956.) 

. Klavierstiick XI. London: Universal Edition, 1957. 

Stravinsky. Ebony Concerto. New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1973. (Composed 1945.) 

. The Rite of Spring. New York: E.F. Kalmus, 1933. (Composed 1911-13.) 

Supremes. “Reflections.” Motown 1111, 1967. 

Virtuoso Harp Music. 

Vangelis. Chariots of Fire: Music from the Original Soundtrack. Polydor 825 B84-1. 

Varese, Edgar. Poeme electronique, from Music of Edgar Varese, Vol. I. Columbia 
ML 5478, 1960. (Composed 1958.) 

Vivaldi, Antonio. The Four Seasons. Electronic realization by Patrick Gleeson. 

Varese/Sarabande VCD 47212. (Composed ca. 1725.) 

Webern, Anton von. Symphony, Op. 21. Wien: Universal Edition, 1956. (Composed 1928.) 
Who, the. “Baba O’Reilly,” from Who’s Next. MCA-1691, 1971. 

. Tommy. MCA2- 10005, 1969. 

Xenakis, Iannis. Bohor I, from Electro-Acoustic Music. Nonesuch H-71246, n.d. 

Yes, the. Close to the Edge. Atlantic SP 19133, 1972. 

Young, La Monte. Composition 1960 #3. 

. Composition 1960 #6. 

. X for Henry Flynt. 1960. 


200 



Epilog - 1989-1995 


Around 1989, when this book had not quite yet been published - it was still in dissertation 
form, with more technical lingo, methodological baggage, and notated musical examples than 
the book as it exists now - I met Brian Eno backstage at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Fran- 
cisco. One of his new audio-visual installations was humming away in a building behind the 
nearby Exploratorium. 

Fie was there to be interviewed in front of an enthusiastic, appreciative packed house by Bay 
Area composer and new music champion Charles Amirkhanian, who had kindly arranged the 
meeting between us. 

Before the interview show, Eno came into the dressing room and we were introduced by his 
manager. Amazingly enough, he was just like all the descriptions I'd read: slightly built, with 
an ingenuous smile, oddly forthright and self-effacing at the same time. He displayed an easy 
sense of humor, opinionated yet self-deprecating. 

Eno had with him a bound copy of my dissertation, which Charles had given him earlier that 
week, and he had already read portions of it. The problem was, in the taxi on the way over to 
the Palace of Fine Arts, he had unwittingly sat on a juicy wad of chewing gum, which was 
now ungraciously affixed to his posterior regions. Consequently, much of our keenly antici- 
pated enounter took place with the great Brian Eno bent over a dressing table while an assis- 
tant nimbly applied a razor blade to a delicate area on the seat of his stylish black pants. 

With the dissertation open before him on the table, Eno flipped through the pages, reading out 
loud and commenting on various passages. He said he was was sincerely impressed with the 
effort that had gone into the book, while simultaneously making amusing remarks to the effect 
that he couldn't believe anyone would actually write an academic thesis about his music. He 
liked it, though, joking that I'd somehow found all the best things he'd ever said and assem- 
bled them together in one place. 

As the sure-fingered assistant continued to perform his deft surgical removal of the offending 
blob, Eno lighted on a passage where I'd described one of his ambient compositions as being 
in the Dorian mode. He chuckled and said, “I didn't know that piece was in Dorian mode.” 

This - and it was confirmed in subsequent communications between us - turned out to be the 
aspect of the book that most fascinated Eno. For as a musician, Eno was self-educated but 
largely untrained: well-versed in a variety of philosophical issues surrounding music, its his- 
tory, and its production, he nevertheless had less knowledge of traditional music theory, har- 
mony, counterpoint, and form than the average American college music student. So to read 
my learned analyses of his works was an eye-opener. 

In his heavily analytical 1973 book Twilight of the Gods: The Music of the Beatles, musicolo- 
gist Wilfrid Mellers mused that “Some people seem to find it inherently risible that pop music 
should be discussed in technical terms at all; when the senior critic of The Times wrote the 
first musically literate piece about the Beatles it was greeted with hoots of mirth both from the 
Beatles themselves and from their hostile critics.” 


201 



Perhaps times have changed; or perhaps Brian Eno is simply unusually literary for a pop fig- 
ure - and unusually open-minded when it comes to taking in different perspectives that hold 
the potential to develop and advance his own work. He told me that reading my book made 
him want to go back and listen to some of his old pieces again, re-evaluate them with this new 
knowledge, and, possibly, to try composing new music with some of the tools he'd gleaned. 
As a music theorist and analyst, I felt that this was the most gratifying tribute a musician 
could have possibly paid my work. 


Eno's Music of the 1990s 

In the past five years, Eno has continued to issue a steady stream of music, installations, arti- 
cles, interviews, and lectures; he has lent his gently stimulating touch as a producer, key- 
boardist, and collaborator to an almost countless number of studio sessions; and he has main- 
tained his position in the forefront of quality rock music, notably through his design of the U2 
1992 Zooropa world tour stage set, complete with a torrential, visually overwhelming array of 
video images and effects. 

In short, he is a person at the full height of his creative powers. 

Eno released four major musical works during this period: Wrong Way Up (1990), an album of 
slightly skewed poppish songs with John Cale; The Shutov Assembly (1992), a colorful an- 
thology of varied ambient pieces; Nerve Net (1992), an astonishing set of studies in rhythm 
and near-atonality; and Neroli (1993), a rather severe exercise in dark modal minimalism. 

Wrong Way Up 

In 1990, Eno gave his public what many of them had long been waiting for - a new album of 
songs. Unfortunately, in this instance the chemistry and contrast between Eno and Cale is not 
enough to produce much in the way of tangible musical interest. Most of these songs sound 
amateurish: silly, over-produced ditties without the acerbic edge that turned some of Eno's 
songs of the 1970s into something admirably demented. 

A number of the songs are campy, in the vein of the Beatles' “Yellow Submarine,” borrowing 
elements from folk music, British music hall, and nursery rhyme. But here the campiness, 
instead of being jolly and light-hearted, gets bogged down in bulky, ponderous, unconvincing 
electronic arrangements. There's little light, little transparency here - little in the way of the 
unique, unreasonable textures that Eno is capable of creating - textures that are capable of 
turning a ho-hum song into a compelling piece of music. 

In a way, Wrong Way Up exposes Eno's weaknesses as a songwriter - for in reality he is not a 
songwriter. Songwriters craft melodies and chords, and arrangers and singers create the per- 
formance. Eno does not write real vocal melodies - they tend to be static, they don't “go” 
anywhere - and he doesn't really understand the power of functional harmony to create, sup- 
port, and propel emotional movement. Eno is not a songwriter, but rather a deft manipulator 
of sounds, colors, and blocks of music. So when he writes a song and the arrangment isn't up 
to snuff, there's little left to sustain interest. 


202 



The Shutov Assembly 

In this delightfully variegated collection, Eno takes us into his workshop as he plays with the 
same sorts of musical building blocks that date back to his works of the late 1970s, creating 
music suitable for establishing a certain background mood, for enhancing creative activities, 
or for deep contemplation. 

As a whole, what sets this collection - recorded between 1985 and 1990 - apart from earlier 
efforts is the de-emphasis of pitch and mode. To put this another way, Eno was experimenting 
with atonality. 

For example, if the pitch set used in the second piece, “ALHONDIGA,” corresponds to any 
known mode or scale, it is not readily apparent to me. My mind strains to find a tonic center 
of gravity, a point at the middle of the galaxy of pitches around which they all revolve and to 
which they are all logically related; but such a center does not seem to exist. Other pieces in 
The Shutov Assembly, such as “FRANCISCO,” are similar. 

The fourth composition, “LANZAROTE,” is a reissue of the Glint (East ofWoodbridge) flexi- 
disk first released in 1986. In the original edition of this book, I wrote that “As Glint shows, 
the ambient style is capable of seemingly perpetual variation and extension: beyond the Phry- 
gian mode of Glint, the still gloomier tones of the Locrian mode are waiting ... Even an atonal 
ambient style does not seem beyond the realm of the possible.” 

With The Shutov Assembly, Eno sticks his toe into the still largely uncharted universe of ato- 
nality, the universe that has no up and down, no central point, no gravity. Schoenberg and We- 
bern, experiencing giddy vertigo as they floated in that vast domain, felt they had to invent, 
through sheer force of artifice, a viable theoretical construct to impose a semblance of order 
on it: that construct was the 12-tone system. 

The “word square” that shows the titles of the individual pieces on the CD's back cover is 
eerily reminiscent of the kind of 12-tone pitch matrixes 1 used to pore over in graduate semi- 
nars on Schoenberg, Webern, Stockhausen, Boulez, and the later Stravinsky. I do not know 
whether, or to what extent, Eno used or adapted actual 12-tone techniques in The Shutov As- 
sembly. But in a 1992 interview in Opal Information, Eno cited Webern as one of his favorite 
composers. And Eno has always had a penchant for cyclic systems; as I pointed out in the 
original edition of this book, the serial organization of “2/1” from Music for Airports is remi- 
niscent of Webern pieces like the first movement of his Symphony, Op. 21. 

(Note: if some of this sounds cryptic, please refer to the definitions of “Atonality,” “Mode,” 
and “Tonality” in the Glossary / of this book.) 

Nerve Net 

Eno's most adventurous solo release in the 1990s - and perhaps of all time - has been Nerve 
Net of 1992. If I had to choose a single Eno album to take with me to a desert island for the 
rest of my life, this would be it, because it's got it all: vintage weird Eno vocals; brash, un- 
usual synthesizer textures up the wazoo; tonality, atonality, and just about everything in be- 
tween; a number of really sublimely irritating pieces (notably the two long mixes of “Web"); 
and hey, you can dance to it too. 

Not since 1 98 l's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts had Eno used percussive elements so relent- 
lessly and successfully. On Nerve Net, the drumming, electronic drumming, and percussion - 


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by Sugarfoot Moffett, Markus Draws, Isaac Osapanin, Winston Ngukwe, Ernest Darling, Ce- 
cil Stamper III, Richard Bailey, Benmont Tench, Ian Dench, and Eno himself— stand out for 
their precision, power, and raw intensity. 

Indeed, in Nerve Net as a whole, Eno once again excels in coaxing outrageous performances 
out of all his instrumentalists and vocalists, somehow managing to create, out of the widest, 
most disparate palette of sounds, something that congeals - and rocks. 

Neroli 

Neroli consists of 58 uninterrupted minutes of a single mode (the dark, mysterious Phrygian), 
a single timbre (a sort of heavily equalized electric piano-type sound), a single dynamic level 
( pianissimo , very soft), and a limited register (most of the fundamental tones are within the 
baritone/bass range of the human voice). The atmosphere of slow, hesitant foreboding is 
maintained from beginning to end. In short, it's a highly minimalistic statement, suitable for 
late-night or Sunday morning meditations. 

Berkeley, California 
March, 1995 


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Eno on the Internet 


An Eno site - kind of an electronic fan club - is now maintained on the Internet. If you're in- 
terested, you can dial in at http://www.acns.nwu.edu/eno-l. The site's mission statement 
reads: 

"This Eno World Wide Web project was created from materials found 
archived on the Internet at various sites and from contributions from 
the subscribers to the Eno mailing list. 

"The intent was in part to create a WWW demo project that would 
show what can be done with musical discographies and FAQs using 
the WWW and a good multimedia browser such as Mosaic. 

"We hope this will inspire other folks to contribute to existing projects 
like the WNUR Jazz WWW server or the American Resource Server.” 

Through the Internet, it is now possible to read a variety of articles about Eno, to download 
bibliographies and discographies, and to communicate with other people about Eno and his 
work. It's kind of like finding a shelf of Eno materials in a library, and so, if you are truly an 
Enophile, it's an experience highly to be recommended. 

Reproduced below is one of the more interesting items in the Eno World Wide Web project. I 
quote it in full because it is vintage Eno. 

Eno & email 

A reader of the Eno mailing list contacted someone who appears 
to be Brian Eno and asked him if he'd like to contribute to 
the mailing list. The reply: 

From: Brian One 
To: zilch 

Subject: Re: eno-1 mailing list 

Hello Paul. Thanks for getting in touch. You might be sur- 
prised to know that I don't want to join your mailing list. 
Don't misunderstand me - I'm very happy that you're doing it, 
and pleased that there's enough interest in me and my work to 
(hopefully) sustain it, but I just don't personally want to be 
part of it. 

You must wonder why this is. I think the reason I feel uncom- 
fortable about such a thing is that it becomes a sort of 
weight on my shoulders. I start to feel an obligation to live 
up to something, instead of just following my nose wherever it 
wants to go at the moment. Of course success has many nice 
payoffs, but one of the disadvantages is that you start to be 
made to feel responsible for other people's feelings: what I'm 
always hearing are variations of "why don't you do more re- 
cords like - (insert any album title)" or "why don't you do 
more work with - (insert any artist's name)?". I don't know 
why, these questions are un answerable, why is it so bloody 
important to you, leave me alone .... these are a few of my re- 


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sponses. But the most important reason is "If I'd followed 
your advice in the first place I'd never have got anywhere". 

I'm afraid to say that admirers can be a tremendous force for 
conservatism, for consolidation. Of course it's really wonder- 
ful to be acclaimed for things you've done - in fact it's the 
only serious reward, becasue it makes you think "it worked! 
I'm not isolated!" or something like that, and irt makes you 
feel gratefully connected to your own culture. But on the 
other hand, there's a tremendously strong pressure to repeat 
yourself, to do more of that thing we all liked so much. I 
can't do that - I don't have the enthusiasm to push through 
projects that seem familiar to me ( - this isn't so much a 
question of artistic nobility or high ideals: I just get too 
bloody bored), but at the same time I do feel guilt for 'de- 
serting my audience' by not doing the things they apparently 
wanted. I'd rather not feel this guilt, actually, so I avoid 
finding out about situations that could cause it. 

The problem is that people nearly always prefer what I was do- 
ing a few years earlier - this has always been true. The other 
problem is that so, often, do I! Discovering things is clumsy 
and sporadic, and the results don't at first compare well with 
the glossy and lauded works of the past. You have to keep re- 
minding yourself that they went through that as well, other- 
wise they become frighteningly accomplished. That's another 
problem with being made to think about your own past - you 
forget its genesis and start to feel useless awe toward syour 
earlier self "How did I do it? Wherever did these ideas come 
from?". Now, the workaday everyday now, always looks rela- 
tively less glamorous than the rose-tinted then (except for 
those magic mhours when your finger is right on the pulse, and 
those times only happen when you've abandoned the lifeline of 
your own history) . 

So good luck with it, but I won't be taking part. If you need 
information, contact LIN BARKASS at OPAL INFORMATION BOX 141, 
LEIGH ON SEA, ESSEX. 

end forwarded message 


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Bibliography Update 1995 


This selective list represents items that have come to my attention since this book was origi- 
nally published in 1989. A sampling of literature on Eno can be found in the Eno World Wide 
Web project's “Bibliography of books and magazines.” For the period before 1989, the main 
Bibliography in this book remains definitive. 

Bertoncelli, R. Brian Eno. Milano, Italy: Arcana Editrice, 1982. 

Coe, Jonathan. “Music Without Knobs,” The Wire (Oct. 1990). “Everyone sees synthesizers as 
the great breakthrough but what they are, in fact is the aphex of Renaissance music 
making, in the second part of our occasional series in music in the 90's. Brian Eno 
unzips a warm jet at democracies. In Art and new technology. Jonathan Coe takes a 
tiger by the tail by strategy.” 

DeRogatis, Jim. “Don't look back,” Request (Feb. 1991). “Rock instigators Brian Eno and 
John Cale move ahead and apart with Wrong Way Up.” 

Destefani, F., and F. Massoni. Brian Eno: Strategie oblique. Milano, Italy: Gammalibri, 1983. 
Diliberto, John. “Music for listeners,” Audio (Mar. 1993). “Purist producer/artists, sick of 
gloss, discover distortion.” 

Doershuck, Robert L. “One vision beyond music: on simplicity, context & the neccesity of 
urgency,” Keyboard (June 1989). Long interview. 

Eno, Brian, and Kevin Kelly. “Unthinkable Futures” and “Unthinkable Stories,” Whole Earth 
Review 79 (Summer 1993). Some hypothetical futures from a conference on the 
WELL, an online system. 

. “Brian Eno talking at Irvine, Orange County, USA, November 1987,” Stride 33-1/3 

[UK poetry/music magazine] (1992). 

. “Eno on Miles Davis,” The Wire (Dec. -Jan. 1993-1994). 

Frost, Mark. “Summit Meeting,” Option 37 (Mar. -Apr. 1991). Transcription of public 
talk/interview. 

Greenwald, Ted. “Pop Goes the Eno,” Creem (Feb. -Mar. 1991). “A Wayward art-rocker redis- 
covers songs, discusses Wrong Way Up and other issues.” 

Kopf, Biba. “Sombre reptile,” city limits (Oct. 11-18 1990) Biba Kopf meets brian eno, the 
lizard king of contemporary electronics, discusses Wrong Way Up and other issues. 
McLellan, Jim. “The Life of Brian,” i-D [UK style magazine] (1993, issue/date unknown). 
Morley, Paul. “Thoughts of a Coriander King,” The Guardian (1993, precise date unknown). 

Discusses Eno's “Perfumes Defence and David Bowie's Wedding” talk. 

Oldfield, Paul. “Eno: A Patter of Life and Death,” Melody Maker (October 13 1990). Inter- 
view. 

Orlando, Antonio. Feature on Eno and The Shutov Assemby, MAX 114 (Feb. 1993). In Italian. 
Prendegrast, Mark. “Brian Eno: After the heat,” Variant 13 (Winter/Spring 1993). “Brian 
Eno's recent re-emergence into the British limelight (via a mainstream record deal 
with Warner Brothers) led to much press coverage and little or no insight. Most writ- 
ers trawled through the back catalogue, glutted themselves on post-modernist babble 
and threw the word Ambient around like a cliche.” 

. “Brian Eno: Thoughts Words Music and Art, Part One,” Sound on Sound [UK music 

technology magazine] (Jan. 1989); “Part Two” (February 1989). Extensive article on 
Eno, Opal, and Eno's collaborators. 

Reboiras, Ramon. “Eno es el mensaje (Eno is the message),” Cambio 16 (June 7 1993). Dis- 
cusses new video-installations, Neroli, etc. 

Savage, Jon. “Interview with Eno,” The Guardian (Nov. 26 1993). 


207 



Sinker, Mark. “Discourse fever,” Spin (Dec. 1990). “Brian Eno, pop's most uncompromising 
egghead, is back with two new albums. And he's still talking all that jazz.” 

. “Taking Modern Culture by Strategy,” The Wire 104 (Oct. 1992). Interview. 

Tamm, Eric. Robert Fripp: from King Crimson to Guitar Craft. Boston and London: Faber 
and Faber, 1990. Includes discussions of Fripp's collaborations with Eno. 

. “Soul Robots: Eno and Fripp with Bowie,” in Elizabeth Thomson and David Gut- 
man, The Bowie Companion. London: Macmillan, 1993. 

Z, Pamela. “Brian Eno: Ambiguity, Yams and Ju-Ju Spacejazz,” Mondo 2000 4 (date un- 
known, probably 1991 or 1992). Interview. Also has D'Cuckoo feature where they 
describe working with Eno. 


208 



Discography Update 1995 

This selective list represents items that have come to my attention since this book was origi- 
nally published in 1989. Further Eno discographies can be found in the Eno World Wide Web 
project on the Internet. 

Key: 

1 - Solo Album 

2 - Solo Single 

3 - Album production or coproduction 

4 - Remix production 

5- Primary collaboration 

6 - Guest appearance / secondary collaboration 

7 - Selected comissions to score music 

1986 

3 THE FALLING: Carmel (2 tracks) (London) (compilation for CD)(EG) 

3 POWER SPOT: Jon Hassell(ECM) 

1987 

3 THE SURGEON OF THE NIGHTSKY RESTORED DEAD THINGS BY THE 
POWER OF SOUND: Jon Hassell (Intuition) 

1988 

6 THE WHITE ARCADES:Harold Budd iOpal/Warner Bros.) 

5 MUSIC FOR FILMS VOL. 3: Eno/Lanois/ Budd/ Brook/ Jones/ Laaraji/Mahlin/ 
Theresin (Opal/Warner Bros.) 

5 YOU DON'T MISS YOUR WATER: 'Married to the Mob' Soundtrack: Jonathen 
Derme (Warner Bros.) (USA Film) 

3 FLASH OF THE SPIRIT: Jon Hassell (Intuition) 

1989 

3 ZVUKI MU: Zvuki MufOpal/ Warner Bros. ) 

6 YELLOW MOON: The Neville Brothers (A&M) 

3 WORDS FOR THE DYING: John Cale (Opal / Warner Bros. ) 

6 RATTLE & HUM: U2 (Island) 

2 ANOTHER GREEN DAY/ DOVER BEACH / DEEP BLUE DAY/ Eno (Editions 
UK) 

6 ACADIE: Daniel Lanois (Opal Warner Bros. ) 

1990 

3 EXILE: Geoffrey Oryema (Real World) 

5 WRONG WAY UP: Eno/ Cale (All Saints) 

1991 

3 ACHTUNG BABY: U2 (Island) 

1992 

1 NERVE NET: Eno (WEA) 


209 



1 THE SHUTOV ASSEMBLY: Eno (WEA) 

2 ALI CLICK: Eno (WEA) 

2 FRACTAL ZOOM: Eno (WEA) 

3 JANE SIBERRY: Tracks (WEA) 

6 COBALT BLUE: Michael Brook (4AD) 

3 COMPLETE SERVICE: YMO (Alfa) 

4 UNBELIEVABLE: EMF - remix. Red Hot & Dance Album (Epic) 

1993 

4 I FEEL YOU - Depeche Mode (Sire) 

7 MR. WROE'S VIRGINS, with Roger Eno - Feb. 

1 NEROLI: Brian Eno (Caroline) 

3 T.B.A.: James (Polydor) 

3 ZOOROPOA: U2 (Island) 


210 



About the Author 


Eric Tamm was bom in New York City in 1955 and spent his early years listening to Mozart, 
Swedish folk-pop tunes, Chet Atkins, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Episcopal hymns. 
A little later - around 1964 - he heard the music of the Beatles and something inside him 
changed forever. His first band was called the Humbugs and did covers of songs by the 
Beatles, the Monkees, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and the rest of the usual late-60s 
groups. 

In college Tamm studied the history of Western theology and comparative religions, travelled 
in Israel and Europe, and spent a year in Tamil Nadu, India. Reading Kierkegaard, Jung, and 
Nietzsche brought him back to his senses, and when he returned to the U.S., he threw away 
the philosphy books and began concentrating on music. 

Ten years of study ensued: Tamm received the B.Mus. from Immaculate Heart College in Los 
Angeles (1978), the Master of Arts in music from Cal State Northridge (1982), and the Ph.D. 
in musicology from the University of California, Berkeley (1987). He taught music - history, 
theory, rock and roll, contemporary music, and piano - at San Francisco Bay Area colleges 
and universities from 1983 to 1990. He is the author of Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to 
Guitar Craft; Right-Brain Musical Improvisation; and numerous critical articles on popular 
and classical music. 

Dr. Tamm developed an abiding passion for high technology, musical and otherwise, and cur- 
rently works as a senior writer at PeopleSoft, Inc., a leading vendor of client/server business 
software applications. He plays lead guitar and sings in a rock band, the Raving Daves, com- 
poses music for fdms and corporate videos, and manages Yak Productions, which records and 
publishes rock and roll, ambient, neo-classical, progressive rock, electro-acoustic, new age, 
and MIDI music. 

This book is available in hypertext format (Microsoft Windows). For more information, 
please contact: 

Yak Productions 
1532 Francisco Street 
Berkeley CA 94703 
eric_tamm@peoplesoft.com 


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